Babies are not supposed to survive abortion procedures, but sometimes the unexpected happens. Sadly, the mortal dangers these babies face do not end with failed abortions. Instead, many face deadly neglect or a more violent end because of inadequacies in both federal and state laws.
While the vast majority of Americans believe that these children deserve legal protection and appropriate medical care, the federal “Born Alive Infant Protection Act” (BAIPA) and similar laws in 30 states, as well as the generally applicable criminal law and medical ethics requirements, lack the enforcement mechanismsnecessary to protect infants delivered alive during abortions. This week, Congressman Trent Franks will lead the charge in the House of Representatives to rectify this unacceptable fact.
National attention was first drawn to the plight of infants born alive during abortions by Jill Stanek, a nurse who testified before Congress in 2001 about her discovery that infants at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois were being left to die on a cold metal countertop in a hospital utility room.
In 2002, the federal BAIPA was enacted to end this practice. However, the law lacks criminal penalties, and the practice of killing or abandoning these infants continues with impunity. This fact was aptly demonstrated when over a decade later, Kermit Gosnell’s grisly abortion business was shut down because, among other crimes, he used scissors to cut the spinal cords of struggling born-alive infants.
And now, through an undercover investigation, horrific evidence has surfaced that some Planned Parenthood affiliates may be intentionally permitting babies to be born alive and intact during abortions, so that their organs may be harvested.
Even where the law is intended to protect them, the outlook is bleak for children born alive in a room full of people who intended the opposite outcome. This is, in part, because violations of laws explicitly protecting children born alive during abortions — like the federal BAIPA — cannot be prosecuted unless they are observed by law enforcement or reported and investigated.
Law enforcement will obviously not observe a crime that occurs in a clinic or hospital operating room. Importantly, even if the discarded body of a tiny victim is later discovered, it may be impossible to prove the child was born alive.
The actual reporting and investigation of a violation of BAIPA has also proven unlikely. No prosecutions can follow non-existent investigations. Sadly, the Gosnell prosecution was an anomaly.
Abortionists and their staffs are hired to terminate pregnancies. Women having abortions ostensibly do so of their own volition. No one attending an abortion has an interest in helping a child who, after surviving the most traumatic delivery imaginable, is in need of immediate and sometimes intensive medical care.
To effectively protect these children, laws across the country need adequate enforcement options, and Congress has the opportunity to take the lead in ensuring they have them. President Obama, who has attempted to distance himself from his role in defeating a born-alive infant protection measure in Illinois, should be pressured to sign a law that at the very least includes strong penalties for violators of the federal BAIPA.
Abortion workers also need to know that they can report violations to law enforcement — in fact, it is their ethical and legal duty to do so. If nurses, physician’s assistants, and other healthcare workers do not speak up, a born-alive infant has no voice — no one to prevent a Gosnell-style snip of the spinal cord or abandonment to death on a cold utility room table.
Infants born through attempted abortions are not a commodity. Abortionists have a financial incentive to kill or permit these babies to die, and to harvest organs from their tiny broken bodies. But this practice is illegal, unethical, and deeply disturbing.
In a country that prides itself on ensuring equal protection of the law, it is astounding how differently medical challenges are handled upon the arrival of a child wanted by his or her parents. For these children, a team of medical professionals is ready to perform extraordinary measures if necessary to preserve and protect their lives.
Every child deserves this welcome, but not every child gets it. When an infant is born alive during abortion there are no smiles, no cheers, no happy declarations of 10 fingers and 10 toes. Instead, there is panic, disbelief, fear, and confusion.
Sadly, we cannot legislate joy. We can do more, however, to ensure that infants born into these horrific circumstances are given a fighting chance to thrive in a world that says a baby is not welcome unless it is “wanted.”
Attorney Mary Harned is staff counsel at Americans United for Life and formerly served as Chief Counsel to U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla).