UPDATE, April 18, 10:05 a.m.: On Thursday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed SB 359.
In the first 100 days of 2019, anti-choice bills have taken center stage.
The goal? To make abortion illegal, criminalizing patients and providers in the process.
One kind of bill making a recent resurgence is the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.” In February, Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska introduced this bill on the U.S. Senate floor. Though it didn’t pass, it’s nowhere near finished. A similar bill has officially made its presence known in North Carolina—a state in which I oversee two abortion clinics—as both SB 359 and HB 602.
If these bills sound familiar, they should: Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced a version in December 2017 in the U.S. House of Representatives (where she was then a Congresswoman), though it stalled in the Senate after passing the House. They build on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002—which states that any infant “born alive” should be granted the rights of a person—by holding physicians criminally liable for not providing lifesaving care in the event that a fetus has been delivered “alive.”
These bills are worded very intentionally, with the aim to further the false narrative that abortions regularly occur immediately before or, according to the president, at the time of birth. While it should be apparent, it is still necessary to point out that any intentional action to end the life of an infant is already illegal. This is covered by federal and state infanticide laws, including the 2002 legislation. These bills do nothing but vilify physicians who provide reproductive health care.
There are major issues with “born alive” bills. First, they’re entirely based on propaganda. It is highly unlikely for an abortion to result in a live birth. In an article for the New York Times, Dr. Daniel Grossman explains that while a healthy fetus can potentially survive outside of the womb at approximately 24 weeks, less than 1 percent of abortions occur after that point and those are overwhelmingly due to severe maternal or fetal health risks. In cases of abortion past 20 weeks, a drug is typically injected to ensure fetal demise prior to any extraction being performed.
These procedures are not the norm. Keep in mind that there are currently fewer than five physicians in the entire country who specialize in these kinds of later-pregnancy terminations.
What strikes me is the clear hypocrisy of these bills. These pieces of legislation emphasize that any “live” birth must be subject to lifesaving measures. This entirely disregards the input of both the physician and the parents involved in any birth situation. It would revoke the option for a parent to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order to limit their infant’s distress, specifically in cases of possible debilitating fetal defects. The legislation would also conflict with the recommendations from medical professional groups that a preterm infant be at least at 22 weeks’ gestation for physicians to provide active life-saving interventions rather than palliative care.
“Born alive” bills jeopardize the ability of physicians to provide adequate care in these instances by threatening felony murder charges if a live birth is not immediately given lifesaving measures. To put it bluntly: These bills are blatant attempts for legislators to control how and when physicians provide care.
Additionally, “born alive” bills with criminal clauses, such as the proposed bills in North Carolina, do not have clear standards for what evidence is necessary for a prosecution. The legislation claims that it is the responsibility of a bystander to report any incident, but how is evidence to be gathered? Will police be questioning patients and hospital orderlies throughout obstetrics wards to find out if they could discern the difference between voluntary and involuntary muscle movement? Will every abortion clinic be forced to provide video recordings of performed procedures?
Based on the lack of evidentiary guidelines, it appears that mere allegations of wrongdoing—anonymous or otherwise—could be enough to prosecute a physician for murder. This would do nothing but increase hostilities toward abortion providers, and in turn, discourage physicians from providing abortion care in an already limited field of access.
Yesterday morning, I tweeted that there are inheritance laws that put limits on how old a newborn must be to inherit, pointing out another potential inconsistency to the idea of a newborn having full legal rights. By the afternoon, I had to lock my account to private in order to avoid the threats and harassment I was getting after a conservative journalist wrongfully claimed that I’d suggested babies younger than 30 days old were not legal persons.
Despite Sen. Sasse’s unwillingness to acknowledge anti-choice violence, these threats are nothing new to me. In fact, these threats reminded me of the true irony of the “pro-life” party: They care nothing for the health and safety of abortion providers or our patients, just the ability to play God with the lives of others.