GOP’s Last Resort to Save Bill to Guarantee Care for Abortion Survivors Fails in House

April 4, 2019 Updated: April 4, 2019

House Republicans took a rare step—a discharge petition—to resurrect a bill that would guarantee care for babies born alive after attempted abortions. On April 3, that effort failed. The last-ditch effort would have forced the bill out of the Judiciary Committee, where it’s been stuck since its introduction in February.

The petition, which required the support of at least 21 Democrats and all Republicans to succeed, garnered 198 signatures by April 3—20 short of passing.

Only three Democrats signed on: Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.). Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who was among the bill’s three Democratic co-sponsors, didn’t sign.

“I co-sponsored the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act because I believe that every life is worth fighting for,” Cuellar said in an emailed statement. “I support and will continue supporting legislation that takes steps to actively keep our children safe and healthy.”

In the Democratic-controlled House, the petition was a longshot to begin with, but Republicans have insisted on bringing the bill up to force Democrats to take a stance on a controversial issue where Democrats appear to have lost ground.

What’s in The Bill

Introduced by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), the bill requires that, in case of a failed abortion, “any health care practitioner present at the time the child is born alive shall exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

After caring for the child, health care practitioners would be required to “ensure that the child born alive is immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.”

Republican Issue

Republicans have repeatedly tried to advance such a bill both in the House and in the Senate after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, appeared to back abortion to the point of condoning infanticide.

Trying to defend a bill in the Virginia Legislature that would have relaxed abortion restrictions, Northam suggested that parents should have the right to have their baby killed even after delivery. After a backlash, he clarified he only referred to cases when the baby has “severe fetal abnormalities” or is deemed “nonviable,” which was still rebuffed by some who presented anecdotes of children deemed “nonviable” by doctors, yet still ending up thriving.

Virginia is one of several Democrat-controlled states that have introduced or passed bills relaxing restrictions on abortion.

Supreme Court Connection

The abortion issue gained prominence after President Donald Trump appointed two conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices, tipping the scales to a 5–4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench. Democrats are worried that an abortion case will be picked up by the court and would lead to overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which hamstrung states’ ability to restrict abortion.

Indeed, at least 10 Republican-run states have introduced or passed bills that restrict abortion in a way that would be likely ruled unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, increasing the likelihood that the Supreme Court will act on the issue.

Who Is The Patient?

Late-term abortions that may result in the birth of a live baby are rare, based on incomplete data, but anecdotal evidence suggests they have in the past been performed even on healthy unborn babies.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act allows Republicans to attack an argument common among Democrats: that decisions about abortion should be made between the woman and the doctor.

A Florida state lawmaker during a 2013 hearing with Alisa LaPolt Snow, a lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said that in the case of a botched abortion that “at that point, the patient would be the child struggling on a table, wouldn’t you agree?”

“That’s a really good question,” LaPolt Snow replied. “I really don’t know how to answer that.”

Data, Polls

Only 28 percent of Americans think abortion should generally be legal after the first trimester, according to Gallup.

Still, about one in nine abortions happens in the second trimester or later, according to the left-leaning Guttmacher Institute.

Americans also appear to have shifted away from supporting abortion in general. A Feb. 12–17 Marist Poll found that 47 percent of Americans identified as “pro-life,” while 47 percent identified as “pro-choice.” A month before, the poll showed “pro-choice” identification prevailing 55 to 38 percent.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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