Why should one baby down the hall be given care while another is left to die? Sen. Joni Ernst asked the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not one Democrat in the room could answer the question.
The Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act is not about restricting abortions but about giving newborns a chance to survive no matter where they are born, said Sen. Ben Sasse, the bill’s lead co-sponsor, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.
During the hearing, called “The Infant Patient: Ensuring Appropriate Medical Care for Children Born Alive,” Republican senators questioned why a baby born in a hospital should be treated differently than a baby born in an abortion facility. Democrats, lacking an answer, changed the subject.
Thirteen committee senators heard from five female witnesses, three who shared powerful testimony and two who expressed concerns about the bill.
Babies Are Just Like Any Other Patients
The first witness was Dr. Robin Pierucci, a neonatologist who has spent her career caring for babies born too early. All babies born alive should be cared for, she said. She referred to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, which provides guidelines for helping a baby transition from intrauterine to extrauterine life. The program defines the standard of care medical staff is responsible for providing to babies born alive.
Pierucci explained that all doctors should promise to provide this standard of care to all human beings. “There is no ethical reason why this medical standard of care should be abandoned for a subgroup of people because they might be less ‘wanted’ than others; wanted-ness does not determine humanness,” she said.
Pierucci pointed out that treating babies differently just because of who delivered them, where they were delivered, or their condition at birth is wrong. “It would be an abandonment of my medical and ethical duty if I only responded to the need of some babies and not to others.”
“We too should never allow a baby, especially a baby, to die anywhere but in the warmth of our arms, nestled securely against our hearts,” she argued. She finished by clarifying that all babies born alive are real patients, and just like every other patient, medical care should be available and medical professionals should have necessary training to stabilize them.
The Born-Alive Infant Protection Act Is Insufficient
Patrina Mosley, the director of Life, Culture, and Women’s Advocacy at the Family Research Council, was the second witness. Mosley explained that the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002 — which states that all babies born alive are humans, regardless of their stage of development — was a good starting place, but it wasn’t enough because it does not require health practitioners to actively treat a born-alive infant.
Earlier in the hearing, Sassse made two important clarifications. He explained that although some states do punish doctors for post-abortion killings, there is no federal statute doing the same. Mosley pointed out 35 states don’t protect infants’ rights. Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, also addressed active killing versus passive killing, saying he believes both leaving a baby to die by neglecting its medical needs and actively killing it are immoral, and therefore, both should be prohibited.
In her testimony, Mosley told the story of Melissa Ohden, who survived a saline abortion and was thrown into a trash bin. Two nurses who heard her gasping for breath rescued her and took her to a hospital. At the hospital, she became a patient.
“We must decide as a country to be morally and logically consistent with ourselves in that if any infant born alive is a full person under federal law, then they are worthy of humane care and protection under federal law,” Mosley said. Ohden was born in 1977, and today she is thriving. She earned a master’s degree in social work and in 2012 founded the Abortion Survivors Network.
The Horrors of Wrongful ‘Comfort Care’
Jill Stanek, a former registered nurse at Christ Hospital, also testified about how babies born alive were treated in the hospital where she worked. She said her hospital often used the labor induction abortion method. While many abortionists kill the baby prior to delivery, Christ Hospital did not. According to the hospital, this resulted in 10-20 percent of babies destined for abortion being born alive.
When this happened, the hospital did no medical assessment of the baby’s condition, instead leaving the infant to die. Stanek described one of these instances.
One night, a co-worker was taking an abortion survivor to a utility room to die because she didn’t have the time to hold him. Stanek said she retrieved the infant and cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes he lived. “He was the size of my hand,” she said. “I couldn’t tell if he was still alive toward the end, so I’d hold him up to the light to see through his thin skin if his heart was still beating.”
Stanek then painted an eerie picture of the way Christ Hospital decided to start handling “comfort care” for infants born alive. In 2000, Christ Hospital unveiled a comfort room where nurses could take babies to die. In the room was a first-photo machine, baptismal supplies, and a footprint maker in case parents want a keepsake of their aborted baby. There was also a wooden rocker to rock babies to death, she said. “How far will doctors go to comfort themselves by letting abortion survivors die?” she asked.
Where Are We Drawing the Line on Equality?
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of National Women’s Law Center, argued instead that, “Access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is a key part to an individual’s liberty, equality, and economic security.” Since 2010, state lawmakers have passed more than 450 abortion restrictions designed to block access to abortion, she said.
Sasse tried to clarify numerous times that this legislation was not about abortion but about what happens after an abortion. Neither Graves nor the Democratic senators in the room agreed. Graves said she believes the bill is on a continuum of restrictive abortion measures. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, agreed, saying that women’s health is under attack every day, especially under Trump, and that this bill is the latest in a decades-long threat against abortion.
Instead of arguing for or against protecting infants born alive, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., argued U.S. health care is biased against African-American women. Instead of fighting for legislation that protects infants born alive, Harris argued we should make taxpayers provide better housing and food for pregnant women.
While Harris might be right that pregnant women need more support, this is not the question at hand. Right now, if a doctor neglected to provide a pregnant woman needed care, he would be prosecuted. This is not true for the child in her womb. Instead of addressing this disparity, Harris simply changed the subject.
One of Graves’ primary arguments against the legislation is that it would take away a family’s right to decide how to spend their last moments with their dying baby. It is noticeable that Graves admits a fetus out of the womb is a baby — even eliciting the image of a mother who just decided to abort her baby and suggesting she may want to hold that baby she didn’t want as it dies in her arms — and then simultaneously says that baby’s life and health should be left up for debate. Shouldn’t there be requirements that prohibit a living baby from being thrown into a trash can or left to die alone on a cold, steel table?
As Pierucci made clear, some of these aborted babies have a chance at life. She said physicians can get fetal diagnoses wrong, so every baby should be evaluated once he or she comes out of the womb to determine if he or she has a chance at life. She said the bill does not require invasive care if a physician makes the assessment that the baby will not survive, but it does require that a physician make an assessment instead of assuming the baby has no hope of life.
Where are we drawing the line on equality? Why should one baby down the hall be given care while another is left to die? Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asked the committee. Not one Democrat in the room could answer this question.