By Jacob Comello
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, spoke to the crowd of journalists and activists gathered before her: “I came to Congress to be a voice for the voiceless and … with the Born-Alive Act … today we will finally start the process of bringing this vote to the floor.”
At a news conference April 2 outside the House of Representatives, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, Wagner and a handful of their Republican colleagues announced that they would be filing a discharge petition for the embattled Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, a move that will bring the bill to the floor of the House for a vote if the petition receives signatures from a simple majority of House members.
A discharge petition is a means of bringing a bill out of committee and to the floor for consideration without a report from the committee by “discharging” the committee from further consideration of a bill or resolution.
The legislation has stalled in the Senate, and the leadership in the Democrat-controlled House has prevented the bill from being brought to a vote multiple times. The Senate version was written by Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, and the House version was written by Wagner.
Scalise related to the crowd gathered outside the House that his constituents are shocked that such a bill is even needed.
“When I say we need to bring this bill to the floor for a vote, the first thing people say is, ‘How is it legal in America to kill a baby after it has been born alive outside the womb?’ … It’s shocking. … It’s something no American should stand for,” the congressman remarked.
He continued by mentioning that this sort of legislation frequently creates bipartisan consensus: “When you talk to people from every walk of life — Republicans, Democrats … and yes, even most pro-choice Americans recognize that a baby born alive outside the womb should have full protection under law.”
Scalise wrapped up by declaring, “All of us here today have a message for (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi. If you won’t bring it up, we’ll bring it up.”
The legislation, H.R. 962, requires that any child born alive following an abortion attempt be afforded “the same degree” of care that would apply “to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” The bill does not dictate bona fide medical judgments nor require futile measures, but rather requires that babies born alive during abortions are treated in the same manner as those babies spontaneously born prematurely.
While existing federal legislation technically confers personhood on those delivered during abortions, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would institute a higher standard of medical care for abortion survivors, care that many pro-life advocates say would turn the tables in favor of life for them.
Also important among its provisions are clauses which require all violations to be reported, and language which holds practitioners accountable by instituting fines or jail time for those who do not deliver the proper medical aid.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, stepped up afterward to describe the Democrats’ efforts in stonewalling the bill.
“Twenty-five … 25 is the number of times we’ve heard ‘no’ from the Democrats who are leading the House,” McCarthy said, “Today everything changes. … No longer can those who belong to Congress hide behind the Democratic leadership and say they did not have an opportunity to vote.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, called it “humane, pro-child, human rights legislation” that needs to be voted on “now.” He also emphasized the bill is clear “that no mother of a child born alive can ever be prosecuted. And it empowers the woman upon whom the abortion is performed to obtain appropriate relief in a civil action.”
Once most of the legislators had taken their turns at the podium, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden shared her story.
“In August of 1977, my biological mother … had a saline infusion abortion forced upon her against her will. That type of procedure involved injecting a toxic salt solution into the amniotic fluid surrounding me in the womb” she recounted.
But she survived: “(I) soaked in that toxic salt solution for five days … before I was ultimately born alive, accidentally. … I wish I could tell you that when I was born alive, everyone saw my humanity and immediately provided me medical care. But I can tell you this is not how it happened.”
A nurse managed to save her life, transporting her to the neonatal intensive care unit. She was treated and eventually adopted.
After the news conference, House members planned to begin gathering the 218 signatures needed on the discharge petition.
“I strongly urge all representatives to sign this petition, and then vote for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “This bill would add specific requirements to help ensure that babies born alive after an abortion attempt can have a fair shot at life.”
For doctors not to provide care to babies who survive an abortion “is a lethal form of discrimination against the circumstances of the child’s birth,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, said in a statement released by the USCCB ahead of the news conference on the Hill.
“Our nation is better than infanticide,” he said. “Babies born alive during the process of abortion deserve the same care and medical assistance as any other newborn.”