Advocates and opponents of abortion rights display signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. (Photo by Jane Norman/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday approved its first abortion-related measures under a new Republican majority, eliciting strong support from GOP members and opposition from Democrats, who rejected the legislation as misleading and incomplete.
Republicans, who secured a four-seat majority during the November midterm elections, advanced a bill setting medical standards on a national level for a baby born after an attempted abortion and a resolution condemning violence against anti-abortion organizations. Supporters said the measures are central to the party’s ideals.
Iowa’s four Republican representatives supported both measures.
Democrats contended the medical standards bill from GOP Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri would circumvent health care providers’ medical judgment.
“Despite what its supporters would have us believe, this legislation would do nothing to enhance protections or the quality of health care if an infant is born after an attempted abortion,” New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler said during floor debate.
“What it would do, however, is directly interfere with a doctor’s medical judgment and dictate a medical standard of care that may not be appropriate in all circumstances, which could in fact put infants’ lives at greater risk,” Nadler added.
Wagner urged support for her bill, saying lawmakers were “considering the protection of infants that have been delivered alive after an attempted abortion.”
“That’s it — plain and simple.” Wagner said.
Rep. Kat Cammack, a Florida Republican, said federal law “currently recognizes these babies as persons, but fails to outline any requirements of care after the infant is born alive.”
Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean urged the House to reject the bill, saying Republicans were either unaware infanticide was an already existing crime or were engaging in “another extreme political stunt.”
“Politicians have no business making unsound medical decisions. We are legislators, not doctors,” Dean said. “And in the unfortunate case when a child is born with fatal disabilities, this legislation will deny parents a say in how their child spends the final minutes, hours or days of his or her life — whether hooked up to a medical device or in the arms of his parents.”
House lawmakers, who are in their first week of work after Republicans elected a speaker early Saturday on a 15th ballot, ultimately voted 220-210 to approve Wagner’s legislation. It would reinforce the core elements of a 2002 law that passed the U.S. House on a voice vote and the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent.
Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar voted for the bill while Vicente González, also a Texas Democrat, voted present.
Little future in Senate
The bill passed Wednesday, which is unlikely to make it through the Democratic Senate or be signed into law by President Joe Biden, says that if “an abortion results in the live birth of an infant, the infant is a legal person for all purposes under the laws of the United States.”
The Wagner bill calls on health care providers to render the same level of care “to preserve the life and health of the child” as they would for “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”
Anyone found guilty of violating the standard could receive up to five years in prison. The bill provides a carve-out that would prevent prosecution of the person receiving the abortion as well as parameters for the individual to file a lawsuit.
Dr. Jennifer Villavicencio, lead for equity transformation at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a written statement that it’s a myth that fetuses or newborns “are accidentally born alive during the course of an abortion procedure.”
“It does not happen because the methods of abortion utilized and the expertise of the physician ensures that this does not occur,” Villavicencio said.
“There may be situations in which a devastating and often life-threatening pregnancy condition results in a neonate being born with signs of life and no chance of survival,” Villavicencio added. “These cases almost always involve highly desired pregnancies and are tragic and heart wrenching.”
In those circumstances, Villavicencio said, patients work with health care providers and sometimes spiritual advisers to make a decision about care.
“Forcing clinicians to instead perform futile and invasive interventions for a neonate with no chance of survival is cruel,” Villavicencio said.
Separately, the House voted 222-209 to approve a seven-page resolution from Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson that’s designed to draw attention to incidents of vandalism and arson at anti-abortion pregnancy centers and other anti-abortion organizations.
Pennsylvania’s Chrissy Houlahan, González and Washington’s Marie Gluesenkamp Perez were the three Democrats to vote for the measure.
The measure highlights 35 incidents that have taken place since Politico broke the story in May 2022 that a draft opinion showed conservative justices were slated to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that kept abortion legal throughout the nation for nearly 50 years. The court later ended the constitutional right to an abortion, sending the issue back to state lawmakers.
The Johnson resolution condemned the incidents of “vandalism, violence, and destruction against pro-life facilities, groups, and churches” and said the U.S. House of Representatives “recognizes the sanctity of life and the important role pro-life facilities, groups, and churches play in supporting pregnant women, infants, and families.”
It called on the Biden administration to use “all appropriate law enforcement authorities to uphold public safety and to protect the rights of pro-life facilities, groups, and churches.”
Johnson argued during floor debate that lawmakers should support the more than 2,700 anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers throughout the country.
“We have to stand against violence and vandalism and personal threats and intimidation,” Johnson said. “They do not deserve the treatment they’ve endured, and they certainly deserve that this Congress condemns the violence committed against them.”
Democrats countered that the resolution was incomplete since it didn’t condemn threats, violence, bombings and murders of health care workers at facilities that perform abortions.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat, said she was appalled Republicans brought a resolution to the floor that “says nothing about the violence against abortion providers that has gone largely unaddressed for nearly 50 years.”
The National Abortion Federation’s 2021 report on violence and disruption showed an “increase in intimidation tactics, vandalism, and other activities aimed at disrupting services, harassing providers, and blocking patients’ access to abortion care.”
Stalking rose by 600%, blockades jumped by 450%, hoax devices/suspicious packages increased by 163%, invasions surged by 129% and assault and battery by 128% compared to 2020, according to the NAF report.
Oregon Democrat Suzanne Bonamici said during floor debate the Johnson resolution was “a distraction from the real issue regarding crisis pregnancy centers, which is that they regularly provide inaccurate, incomplete and injurious information to people who are seeking guidance and fact-based health care.”
“Crisis pregnancy centers often engage in deceptive advertising to get people in the door, and then they mislead them about the services they provide,” Bonamici said.
Contrast to last year
The two measures the U.S. House voted on Wednesday were a stark contrast to the legislation Democrats brought to the U.S. House floor last summer after the high court ruling.
The Democratic legislation, which passed on mostly party-line votes, would have ensured people the right to travel out of state to access abortion amid discussion in some Republican-controlled state legislatures about trying to make such movements illegal.
A separate Democratic bill would have legalized abortion nationwide and prevented lawmakers from instituting restrictions before viability, which is typically around 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
Lawmakers would have been barred from restricting abortion after viability when “in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Wednesday that the two measures the U.S. House approved would not get past the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
“These bills are doomed in the Senate,” Schumer wrote on Twitter. “American women deserve to have their right to healthcare protected, not undermined.”
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