WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday voted not to advance legislation that would place new mandates on how doctors handle infants born alive during abortions.
Opponents slammed the proposal as a dangerous assault on abortion rights and a heartless government intervention into emotionally devastating family situations.
But backers cast the debate as a basic question of human decency.
“Picture a baby that’s already been born, that is outside the womb, gasping for air, that’s the only thing that today’s vote is actually about,” Sen. Ben Sasse said on the floor before the vote. “We’re talking about babies who’ve already been born. Nothing in this bill touches abortion access.”
The Nebraska Republican introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and repeatedly said opponents are essentially defending infanticide. His bill would require any health care provider present when a child is born alive after an abortion or attempted abortion to exercise the same degree of care they would provide to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” The bill would also require them to get the infant to a hospital.
Providers who violate those requirements would face up to five years in prison.
Monday’s vote was 53-44 in favor of the bill, short of the 60 votes required to move a bill forward. All four GOP senators from Nebraska and Iowa voted for it. Three Democrats backed the legislation.
Opponents described the bill as an attempt to score political points with hard-core conservative groups opposed to abortion.
They noted that the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester and that only 1.3 percent happen after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They said that the percentage of cases in which a child might be born alive is incredibly small and that those cases typically involve extreme fetal anomalies not compatible with life over the long term.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., asked her colleagues to imagine the heartache of parents informed late in a pregnancy that their fetus has such abnormalities and forced to confront the difficult decision to terminate.
“Some on the other side of the aisle are trying to use those parents’ suffering for political advantage, making worst-case scenarios like these all the more difficult by pushing a bill aimed to criminalize reproductive care, no matter the cost,” Duckworth said. “If it becomes law, this bill would force doctors to perform ineffective, invasive procedures on fetuses born with fatal abnormalities, even if it’s against the best interests of the child, even if it goes against recommended standards of care and they know it wouldn’t extend or improve the baby’s life, even if it would prolong the suffering of the families, forcing women to endure added lasting trauma, making one of the worst moments of their lives somehow even more painful.”
Opponents suggested that Sasse’s bill is aimed at intimidating health care providers into refusing to provide abortion services. And they said infanticide is already against the law.
President George W. Bush, after all, signed a 2002 measure into law that defined those born alive during abortions as legal persons.
But backers of Sasse’s bill said that was only a “definitional” bill that lacked any enforcement mechanisms or criminal penalties, creating loopholes that prevent abortion providers from being held accountable.
“This legislation closes the gap and ensures that there are concrete enforcement measures to protect children who survive abortion attempts,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
Proponents also said state-level protections are being undermined and pointed to bills to expand abortion rights in Virginia and New York.
“These policies and lines of thought fly in the face of our core values, and they have to end,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.
Deb Fischer reads George Washington’s farewell, an annual Senate tradition
WASHINGTON — As he prepared to leave office, President George Washington put together parting words of wisdom to the fledgling country he had helped create.
In his farewell letter to “friends and citizens,” Washington warned his fellow Americans about the dangers of partisan strife, foreign entanglements and public debts.
Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska was tapped Monday to read those words on the Senate floor.
The reading is an annual tradition begun in 1862 as a “morale-boosting gesture during the darkest days of the Civil War,” according to Senate history.
Other Nebraskans have had the honor: Sen. Ben Sasse in 2017 and then-Sen. Mike Johanns in 2009.
Designated senators typically inscribe their names in a black leather-bound volume kept by the secretary of the Senate.
Fischer gave The World-Herald a written copy of what she wrote in the book alongside her name. She wrote that she was proud to carry on the tradition of reciting Washington’s words.
“Without the courage of his convictions and his leadership that defined our national ambition, our newly formed nation may have failed,” Fischer wrote. “Washington’s letter to friends and citizens revealed he had no hunger for personal power. His love was with the people and he put his trust in the new republic. He will forever be ‘First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.’ What an honor it is to stand in this hallowed chamber and read Washington’s parting words once more.”
In an interview, Fischer said one part of Washington’s farewell that stood out to her was his call for unity in the face of geographic tensions.
“If you look at a red-blue map now, I think that hits home, to be careful of those geographic divisions,” Fischer said.