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Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2000 / 18 Elul 5760

John Leo

John Leo
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Consumer Reports

Baby-saving made easy

Any bill that protects against infanticide should be backed -- DEFENDERS of abortion rights think the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act is just another tactical ploy in the abortion wars. In part, it is. Opponents of abortion want to see if the abortion lobby is really going to come out against a proposed law that simply says babies born alive are persons. Sure enough, it did, thus fulfilling the safe prediction that the abortion lobby will always adopt the most extreme position available.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) put out a hot statement announcing that "this bill attempts to inject Congress into what should be personal and private decisions about medical treatment." Translation: Killing babies born accidentally as a result of botched abortions has to be legal because we want it to be. Antiabortion people simply said: We told you so. We predicted that court approval of those grisly "partial-birth" abortions would lead to demands that infanticide should be legal too.

The "Born-Alive" bill was introduced by Rep. Charles Canady, a Florida Republican, and approved 22 to 1 by the House Judiciary Committee. It defines the term "born alive" as meaning "complete expulsion or extraction from its mother" of "a member of the species Homo sapiens . . . who after such expulsion or extraction, breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles . . . ." New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, an abortion-rights supporter, voted in favor of the bill but seemed mystified by it. "As far as I can tell," he said, "this bill does nothing except restate current law."

Babies' rights. Not so, says Canady. The bill recapitulates existing law in 40 states, the lawmaker explains, and will bring their standard up to the federal level. In effect, the bill says that babies born during abortions must be put on the same plane and extended the same care and constitutional protections as other babies. Once born, they cannot be discriminated against, killed, or allowed to die simply because they are unwanted.

Nurses testified before the Judiciary Committee about how medical personnel deal with the results of "induced-labor abortion" at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. Under this technique, a drug forces the woman's cervix open, and the woman expels a premature baby who dies during the process or soon afterward. Most are disabled and too small to survive. Jill Stanek, one of the Christ Hospital nurses, said she retrieved a 10-inch, 21-week Down's Syndrome baby from a laundry room and cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. One nurse, Stanek said, told her of an aborted baby who was supposed to have spina bifida but was delivered with an intact spine.

Last year, Alberta Report magazine said that Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, was conducting two or three induction abortions a week, many of which resulted in live births. Afraid of losing their jobs, but repelled by hospital policy, four nurses spoke out anonymously. All protested the killing of the unborn because they may be defective. One said that doctors are frequently wrong about diagnosing a serious mental or physical defect, but even when a baby is born apparently healthy the doctors often choose to hide their mistakes and let the baby die.

Here's why the Canady bill is more than a gambit in the abortion wars. We live at a time when the intellectual groundwork for the promotion of infanticide is already in place and spreading. Princeton's Peter Singer and other influential scholars argue that birth is an arbitrary point for society to bestow personhood (and therefore constitutional protections). They want parents to have some time to decide whether to dispatch the baby or keep it. Jeffrey Reiman, philosophy professor at American University, thinks that infants do not "possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them." In this growing climate, a slide toward casual euthanasia is possible, and viable babies born as the accidental result of abortions are more vulnerable than ever. Some abortionists routinely let these babies die because they were marked for extinction anyway. Some act on the belief that the mother's intent must govern. Others are simply unwilling to admit incompetence by telling a woman who came in for an abortion that she is now a mother.

The intent of the mother is something of a frontier for abortion supporters. It shifts attention away from the reality of the baby, already born with rights, and back toward the purpose of the operation–to abort. Pro-choice literature is filled with suggestions that the developing life within a mother is an unborn baby if she wants it, simply discardable tissue if she doesn't. The Supreme Court's decision striking down Nebraska's partial-birth-abortion law has some hints that the mother's intent governs. The Third Circuit's July decision striking down New Jersey's partial-birth ban has stronger hints that what the mother means to do is more important than whether the baby is inside or outside of the mother's body during the procedure.

All the more reason to draw the brightest line possible between abortion and homicide. The bill doesn't undermine Roe v. Wade. Its point is just that you can't kill babies. Can't both sides of the abortion dispute agree on that?

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Send your comments by clicking here.


09/12/00: Line between reporting and editorializing continues to blur
09/05/00: In the key of F
08/29/00: Hollywood connection
08/22/00: Some friendly advice to the GOP
08/15/00: You can't make this up
08/08/00: The niceness strategy
08/01/00: When rules don't count
07/25/00: Anti-male bias increasingly pervades our culture
07/18/00: Banned in Boston
07/12/00: What Jacoby had to deal with!
07/11/00: Will boys be boys?
07/05/00: Partial-sense decision
06/27/00: Attitude toward death penalty gets in the way of facts
06/20/00: Double troubles
06/13/00: Fools paradise
06/06/00: Accidental conspirator
05/30/00: Faking the hate
05/23/00: Was it law or poetry?
05/16/00: Here, there and everywhere, people have gone bonkers
05/09/00: Tufts evangelicals are punished for acting on their beliefs
05/02/00: Elian's opera isn't over until nearly everyone sings
04/25/00: All the news that fits: The media serve up many stories from a standard script
04/19/00: Those darned readers: The gap between reporters and the general public is huge
04/05/00: Census sense and nonsense
03/29/00: Hollywood message films leave no room for other views
03/22/00: The Vatican confesses, but is it enough?
03/14/00: Watch what you say: The left can no longer be counted on to defend free speech
03/07/00: McCain's malleable messages
03/01/00: Bush's appearance at Bob Jones U. will dog him all the way
02/23/00: 'Multi-millionaire' show is new evidence we're insane

© 2000, John Leo