Amendment to protect babies born alive fails to advance, foreshadowing larger fights over abortion

By Jennifer Popik, J.D. Director of Federal Legislation

Editor’s note. This appeared on page one  of the February edition of National Right to Life News. Please share with all your pro-life family and friends. Also send any comments to daveandrusko@gmail.com.

Last Friday, in the early morning hours, pro-abortion Senate Democrats approved a budget resolution, in the process defeating an amendment to protect babies born alive during an attempted abortion.

The party-line vote was 51-50, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote in her role as President of the Senate.  The budget resolution is the first step towards passage of a possible coronavirus relief package.  

Despite calls for “unity,” Senate Democrats used budget reconciliation, a tactic which permits narrow spending legislation, in the process bypassing the 60-vote legislative filibuster.  The budget, a shell bill, authorizes $1.9 trillion and includes instructions to congressional committees for drafting the coronavirus relief legislation.  

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) took to the floor to offer an amendment to protect babies born alive in an attempted abortion. 

The amendment received a bipartisan majority vote of 52-48, but failed to meet the 60-vote threshold required to advance.  

All Senate Republicans, along with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), voted in favor of the amendment.  Forty-eight Senate Democrats, including newly seated Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff, blocked the amendment, which required 60 votes to pass.

Sen. Sasse stated, 

Protecting newborns ought to be the easiest thing in the world. This legislation isn’t red vs. blue, it is simply about giving every baby a fighting chance. Every baby deserves care. This isn’t about abortion, it’s about human rights. I am going to continue to fight for these babies because love is strong than power and we will win. 

Sen.  Sasse first introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in 2015 and recently reintroduced the legislation for the 117th Congress.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (S. 123) would enact an explicit requirement that a baby born alive during an abortion must be afforded “the same degree” of care that would apply “to any other child born alive at the same gestational age,” including transportation to a hospital.  In addition, the bill applies the existing penalties of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1111 (the federal murder statute) to anyone who performs “an overt act that kills a child born alive.” The bill also empowers women with a right to sue their abortionists and others for harm caused by violations of the act.  

National Right to Life strongly supports the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and urged the Senate to adopt Sen. Sasse’s amendment.  The companion bill in the U.S. House is H.R. 619, sponsored by Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO).

On the heels of the amendment vote, House Republican Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said, 

While Senator Sasse’s Born-Alive amendment received majority support in the Senate last night, it should have received unanimous support. It is not enough for a majority of Representatives and Senators to believe that babies who survive an abortion deserve full medical care and attention. 77% of voters support the Born-Alive Act, while only 4% of Senate Democrats voted in favor of the amendment. Democrats are truly pandering to left’s most pro-abortion radicals.

In the last Congress pro-life House Republicans worked hard to try to bypass pro-abortion leadership, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), in order to force a vote on this legislation. It is anticipated that they will attempt to do so again. 

In 2002, Congress enacted the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. Under this law, babies who are born alive, whether before or after “viability,” are recognized as full legal persons under federal law.

The 2002 Born-Alive Infants Protection Act became law without a single dissenting vote. Since then, the legal landscape has changed. There is evidence that some abortion providers, despite the clear language of the statute, do not regard babies born alive during abortions as persons. As a result, they do not provide babies born alive with the same appropriate care that would be provided to premature infants of the same gestational age

Hyde Amendment

The same day the budget resolution passed without a single Republican vote, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mt.) who chairs the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, sent a letter signed by 48 pro-life senators to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer pledging to vote to block any bill that would undermine the Hyde Amendment or any other pro-life protections.

The letter states in part,  

We are united in our resolve to guard against any changes to Federal law that would unsettle nearly half a century of bipartisan consensus against taxpayer funding for abortion on demand, or otherwise threaten the lives of unborn children. Accordingly, we are committed to vote against the advancement of any legislation that would eliminate or weaken the Hyde Amendment or any other current-law pro-life protections, or otherwise undermine existing Federal pro-life policy.

The fact that even the common-sense Sasse Amendment, which would essentially prevent infanticide, failed to advance, is a grim foreshadowing of even larger fights on preserving pro-life policy to come.