By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. Senate failed again Tuesday (Feb. 25) to approve protections for unborn babies late in their mothers’ pregnancies and newborns who survive abortions.
Supporters of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act fell short in afternoon attempts to bring the proposals to the Senate floor. They needed 60 votes to invoke cloture, as the procedural move is known, and proceed to a roll call on passage of the bills.
Senators voted 53-44 for cloture on the pain-capable legislation and 56–41 for cloture on the born-alive bill. Two Democrats voted in favor of cloture on the pain-capable measure and three in favor on the born-alive proposal. Two Republicans voted against cloture on the pain-capable bill.
The Senate also failed to invoke cloture on the pain-capable proposal in 2018 and the born-alive measure in 2019.
The pain-capable bill would have banned abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb can experience pain by that point in gestation. The other proposal would have required health care for a baby born alive during an abortion.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore told Baptist Press, “It ought to be a national scandal that the United States Senate failed to advance either of these basic and common-sense bills that would protect human life.
“This is an awful government failure that multiple elected officials chose to neglect the needs of vulnerable children to protect the abortion industry,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written remarks. “Our work to defend human dignity is a long-term effort, and we will continue forward with diligence and in prayer for the day that every life is valued.”
In 2018, the Senate voted 51-46 to bring the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act to the floor but fell short of the 60 votes required to invoke cloture. The House of Representatives had approved its version of the legislation in 2017.
The Senate also failed in a 53-44 vote in February 2019 to invoke cloture on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
Even if the Senate had been able to invoke cloture on and approve both bills, they likely would have been dead on arrival in the House, where the Democratic majority overwhelmingly opposes the measures. Republicans in the House failed to bring the born-alive proposal to the floor for a vote last year despite repeated attempts.
If the bills had reached his desk, President Donald Trump would have signed them, his administration said in a policy statement.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., sponsor of the born-alive proposal, spoke on the Senate floor Monday (Feb. 24) in support of both bills. He said, “These two bills are different, but they are connected by this simple question, which is: Will the Senate vote tomorrow to protect babies?”
Of his legislation, Sasse told senators, “If we’re hemming and hawing about whether it’s OK to let children die of neglect, we know we’ve lost part of our soul.”
Democratic leaders criticized Senate Republicans for holding the votes.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York described the proposals as “fake, dishonest, extreme legislation.”
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said on Twitter the votes are “part of a deliberate, methodical, orchestrated right-wing assault on reproductive rights, & I am sick and tired of it.”
Democratic opposition to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in both the House and Senate has left members of the party vulnerable to understandable charges of supporting infanticide. The bill not only says a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion is a “legal person” deserving protection, but it mandates a health-care provider give the same degree of care offered “any other baby born alive at the same gestational age.”
While some abortion-rights advocates have denied babies are born alive during abortions, health-care workers’ reports of children who survive abortions being permitted to die without care date back at least 20 years, when nurses reported a method known as live-birth abortion was being used in at least one hospital in Chicago. The practice resulted in surviving babies being left unattended to die.
Multiple adults have come forward in recent years to testify as survivors of abortions. The Family Research Council said Feb. 25 its examination of statistics from just eight states found at least 170 additional abortion survivors apart from the 143 survivors reported in the Centers for Disease Control’s data.
Advocates for the pain-capable ban — sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Southern Baptist — point out the United States remains among only seven countries in the world that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The other six from among 198 countries are Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.
At least 275 clinics perform abortions past 20 weeks in the United States, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Abortion doctors often use a technique known as dismemberment or “dilation and extraction” abortion from about 14 weeks of pregnancy into the third trimester, according to NRLC. In the method, a doctor uses instruments such as forceps, tongs, clamps or scissors to cut off or rip off parts of an unborn baby or crush the child’s body.
While efforts at the federal level have been unsuccessful, 16 states have enacted pain-capable abortion bans based on its model, according to NRLC. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho’s law in 2015. Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi and Missouri have passed similar measures, according to Graham’s office.
Unlike Sasse’s bill, Democrats did not block similar legislation that gained approval in 2002. The Senate passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act by unanimous consent, and the House of Representatives approved it by voice vote. The measure, signed into law by President George W. Bush, clarified a newborn child — “at any stage of development” and fully outside the womb — is a person to be protected under federal law.
The 2002 law does not adequately protect children who survive an abortion, supporters of the latest proposal contend. Sasse’s legislation makes specific requirements of health-care providers and calls for penalties not in the 2002 measure. A violation of the measure could result in a fine and/or a prison sentence of as many as five years.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.