A group of pro-life Republicans in the House gathered Wednesday to ask the question: Why are Democrats fighting so hard to stop born infants from getting medical care?
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.), and Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), and others lambasted Democrats for blocking legislation requiring doctors to treat babies born after failed abortions. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would legally cover infants who are still alive after botched abortions with "the same claim to the protection of the law that would arise for any newborn, or for any person who comes to a hospital, clinic, or other facility for screening and treatment or otherwise becomes a patient within its care."
With the words "end infanticide" emblazoned on the lectern at which they spoke, the GOP members of Congress emphasized their pro-life principles but also asked why even pro-choice Democrats would tolerate the killing of infants outside the womb.
"There are some issues you really can't believe you have to have debated, and this is one of those issues," Cheney said.
Specifically, Scalise implored Democrats to sign the discharge petition to bring the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act out of committee and onto the floor of the House.
"I'm calling on every member of Congress to sign the discharge petition," Scalise said. "Let's have a debate."
The bill has gone down more than a dozen times in the House and Senate. The bill's Senate sponsor, Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), said he was surprised it was blocked by a filibuster since nothing in its language restricts abortion, but that hasn't stopped abortion-rights groups from denouncing it in strident terms. House members echoed Sasse's point that this bill only serves to protect babies that have been born, repeatedly asking why Democrats have blocked it a total of 17 times.
"Seventeen times we've asked," said Indiana's Rep. Jackie Walorski (R.). "I cannot fathom, to our Democratic leadership, what are you afraid of?"
"It's unbelievable," Cheney said. "The Democrats are fighting for infanticide."
Democratic senator Patty Murray (Wash.) blasted Republicans for opposing "women's rights" with the bill, calling it "anti-doctor, anti-woman, and anti-family." Murray said a 2002 law already protects babies in cases such as these, although that law has no criminal penalties for doctors, nor does it specifically require any medical care. That's why pro-choice activists argue it's a better law than what Republicans are proposing.
Kristyn Brandi, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said the Republican bill "is a stark departure from the 2002 law as it singles out abortion and applies strict new requirements on abortion providers only, with the intent to malign and threaten abortion providers."
Sasse argued over the weekend that the abortion industry has captured the Democratic Party, in an opinion piece written with Meghan McCain.
Democrats have found themselves in this position after Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D.) defended a bill in the state's House of Delegates which would allow third-trimester abortions. Del. Kathy Tran (D.) had touted the fact that the bill would legalize abortion when the mother is dilating, which caused controversy and led to Northam being asked about the bill. Not only did Northam defend it, he also said infants born alive after attempted abortions would be "kept comfortable" while doctors and the parents discussed whether to try to save the baby or not.
Tran walked back her initial comments, saying abortion when a woman dilating is infanticide. That left Northam, who stood by his comments, on the left wing regarding abortion, but his governorship quickly became embroiled in a racism scandal that overshadowed abortion. Rep. Ben Cline (R., Va.) read aloud Northam's exact words about the "discussion" between doctors and the mother of a born child and said Republicans have to represent the child's interests.
"There's an important person being left out of that discussion, and that's the baby," Cline said, saying pro-lifers want to debate on behalf of that baby.
Republicans are trying to keep the pressure on Democrats who are trying to move past this issue by guaranteeing there is no problem with botched abortions in this country. But that's incorrect according to Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, who said hundreds of cases have been reported, despite the incentive for botched abortions to go unreported.
Smith said failed abortions are treated as "an embarrassment to be hushed up," and he emphasized that women who undergo abortion procedures are not targeted in the proposed legislation.
"No mother, no woman can be prosecuted," Smith said. "It is the abortionist we seek to hold to account."
This push by pro-life members of Congress comes as several states have passed or have considered sweeping new bills to cut regulations on abortion—specifically to legalize third-trimester abortions, which only 13 percent of Americans support. Illinois nurse Jill Stanek, who once tended to an infant who had been born alive after a botched abortion but soon died, joined the group to offer remarks about her state's proposed legislation to eliminate various restrictions on abortion. Pro-choice supporters of the bills said they seek to make Illinois the "Midwest's abortion care oasis."
"With the repeal of the parental notification act, these would combine for the most heinous abortion laws in the country," Stanek said. "Halt this bloodlust."
Minority Leader McCarthy said infanticide is not a partisan issue but pointed out that Republicans are unified against Democrats on bringing the bill forward. He asked Democrats to see these infants the same way as any other child.
"A child who survives an abortion deserves the opportunity for life, and we ought to fight for that," McCarthy said.