Senate Democrats Defeat Bid to Protect Abortion Survivors

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February 5, 2021

Senate Democrats defeated legislation Wednesday that would have protected infants who survive abortions.

The Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act failed because nearly every Senate Democrat voted against the measure, which requires doctors to provide medical care for newborns who survive abortion attempts. The act received 52 votes, falling 8 short of the 60-vote threshold necessary to break the filibuster. Democratic senators Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) crossed the aisle to vote for the legislation.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), who introduced the legislation, decried the partisan vote. "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," he said.

Sasse has championed the bill in each legislative session since 2015. Senate Republicans have united around the legislation. The 52-vote margin marks a 4-vote decrease from 2020, when 56 senators voted for the legislation. Then-senator Doug Jones (D., Ala.) joined Manchin and Casey in voting for it along with all 53 Republican senators.

The Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment on its stance on the legislation. Vice President Kamala Harris voted against the legislation during her time in the Senate.

The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List praised Casey and Manchin for resisting their party and for representing the will of American voters. "The American people now know where every single U.S. senator stands on protecting babies born alive after failed abortions," the group said. "The legislation should have received 100 votes, but sadly, 48 Democratic senators voted against life-saving care for babies born alive."

The measure enjoys bipartisan support among voters. A poll found that more than three-fourths of respondents, including 70 percent of Democrats, favored mandating medical care for abortion survivors.

Sasse's legislation has become a model for state legislatures that are taking similar action to protect abortion survivors. The Family Research Council found that 16 states offer protections similar to the ones proposed by the legislation, while 13 states have no protections in place.

Pro-abortion groups have criticized the proposal for "interfering in private medical decisions between patients and providers." Planned Parenthood criticized a Kansas law modeled on the act and argued that Congress's 2002 unanimous passage of a similar act rendered the new legislation unnecessary. Senate Democrats have also said that the act's passage is unnecessary because of already existing law. The current legislation would have added the potential of federal criminal penalties for failing to care for an abortion survivor.

The act's failure comes one week after the Biden administration rolled back restrictions on abortion through executive action.