Is There a Difference
by Cathy Deeds
September 1, 2000
Is a fully born child a person entitled to legal rights and protection?
Of course, you say.
Surprisingly, there seems to be doubt on that score in some academic circles and hospitals. Congress wants to set the matter straight with a new federal bill declaring that fully born human beings are persons for the purposes of federal law.
That's right. The Born-Alive Infant Protection Act of 2000, H.R. 4292, declares that "person," "human being," "child," and "individual" include every infant member of the human family who is born alive at any stage of development. It means that these children must be protected if they survive abortion, premature labor, or if they simply are not "wanted," no matter what their age or size. It does not require a new federal standard of care or specific medical treatment.
According to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL), this simple but important legislation is prompted by two developments: the recent Supreme Court decision Stenberg v. Carhart, ruling that Nebraska's partial-birth abortion ban is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade; and recent cases at a Chicago hospital where abortion survivors were not given proper medical care and were left to die alone. As Chairman Canady explained during a July 20 House Constitution Subcommittee hearing: "Recent changes in the legal and cultural landscape appear to have brought this well-settled principle [that all live-born infants are persons] into question."
Indeed. Most Americans were horrified to learn that something as barbaric as partial-birth abortion is occurring in America. Unfortunately, neither esteemed medical personnel, nor distinguished law professors, nor 70% of the public, nor 30 state legislatures could persuade the President or the Court that partially delivering and then killing healthy children is not medically necessary and is outside the reach of Roe. Five Supreme Court Justices in Carhart held that this grotesque procedure which is really a form of infanticide is a form of abortion protected by Roe.
Just as the acceptance of abortion on demand 27 years ago has contributed to a culture of death, now including legalized partial-birth abortion, the inevitable next step is the acceptance of outright infanticide. Already we are hearing the evidence. Two nurses from Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois testified before the House Constitution subcommittee that "live birth abortions" are performed in their unit, often reserved for babies with particular conditions such as Downs syndrome, spina bifida, Potter's syndrome and many others. Nurse Allison Baker witnessed three such "abortions" in 1998 and 1999. The babies were 16 weeks, 20 weeks, and 22 weeks old, and each survived an attempted abortion and received no medical care. The children lived between 45 minutes and 2 ½ hours. In two cases, nurse Baker found the live babies in a soiled utility room; in a third case, the child "expired" in her arms.
The pro-abortion crowd is not even subtle about their acceptance of this evil. Reacting to Canady's legislation in a July 20 press statement, NARAL complained: "Anti-choice lawmakers are seeking to ascribe rights to fetuses 'at any stage of development,' thereby directly contradicting one of Roe's basic tenets ... The bill also attempts to inject Congress into what should be personal and private decisions about medical treatment in difficult and painful situations where the fetus has no chance for survival." This prompted Helen Alvare's somber response, "It happened sooner than we feared but it was not unexpected. Abortion advocates now insist that the decision to kill a fully born infant, at any stage of development, is a personal and private medical decision."
Are we not shocked by this? Will some support outright infanticide just to defend abortion "rights"? An outspoken pro-abortion member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), strongly disagreed with Rep. Canady's argument that Carhart will lead to a further erosion of the dignity of human life and acceptance of outright infanticide. He originally said Canady's bill was simply not necessary. But Nadler and seven other pro-abortion Democrats were then surprised by NARAL's extreme statement that showing respect for newborn infants is a threat to Roe and abortion rights. In the end, these members all voted for the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act in Committee.
These abortion advocates want to maintain that the "rights"of the unborn and the rights of a newborn child are completely different, legally. Their own friends in the abortion rights movement disagree, holding that Roe's right to take life should logically extend beyond the womb. Let us pray that Congress can agree to stop this deadly expansion, by quickly passing the bill this year.
Cathy Deeds is a public policy analyst with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Bishops' Pro-Life Committee and staff are hoping to educate the American people about the Carhart decision with a new brochure, "The Door Opens to Infanticide" ($6/100). Phone 202-541-3070.