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Senate blocks bill on medical care for children born alive after attempted abortion

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The Senate voted Monday to block consideration of a measure that would punish any doctor who fails to provide medical care to a child born alive after an attempted abortion.

All but three Democrats voted against a procedural motion on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, denying it the necessary 60 votes to proceed. The final vote count was 53 in favor and 44 opposed.

The bill would require a health-care practitioner to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child” as he or she would to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” The bill includes criminal penalties, a right of civil action for an affected mother and a mandatory reporting requirement for other health providers.

Opponents of the bill argued that it represented an unjustified attack on abortion rights, preventing doctors from exercising their best medical judgment and exposing them to possible lawsuits or prosecution.

The Post’s Robert Barnes analyzes how states are passing laws restricting abortion rights and testing how the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority decides. (Video: Luis Velarde, Breanna Muir/The Washington Post)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sought to put Democrats — and 2020 candidates in particular — on the record on the issue after recent comments made by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). McConnell also plans to hold a vote in the coming weeks on the Green New Deal climate change legislation as he has cast the Democrats as extreme.

In remarks on the Senate floor ahead of Monday’s vote, McConnell described the measure as “a straightforward piece of legislation to protect newborn babies.” Democrats, he argued, “seem to be suggesting that newborn babies’ right to life may be contingent on the circumstances surrounding their birth.”

“So my colleagues across the aisle need to decide where they’ll take their cues on these moral questions. On the one hand, there are a few extreme voices who decided some newborn lives are more disposable than others. On the other side is the entire rest of the country,” McConnell said.

A group of House Republicans, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), walked across the Capitol to the Senate side in a show of support for their colleagues in the other chamber.

President Trump targeted the Democrats for attack after the vote. “Senate Democrats just voted against legislation to prevent the killing of newborn infant children. The Democrat position on abortion is now so extreme that they don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth,” Trump wrote in a message on Twitter. “This will be remembered as one of the most shocking votes in the history of Congress. If there is one thing we should all agree on, it’s protecting the lives of innocent babies.”

The mostly Republican supporters of the bill say that new state-level legislation that has sought to remove barriers to late-term abortions necessitate federal action. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), the bill’s author, has described it as an “infanticide ban” that aims to protect innocent newborns.

“I want to ask each and every one of my colleagues whether or not we’re okay with infanticide,” Sasse said on the Senate floor Monday. “It is too blunt for many people in this body, but frankly, that is what we’re talking about here today. . . . Are we a country that protects babies that are alive, born outside the womb after having survived a botched abortion?”

But that characterization has infuriated abortion rights supporters, who note that infanticide is already illegal and argue that Sasse’s bill is actually meant to dissuade doctors from performing late-term abortions in the first place.

“We must call out today’s vote for what it is: a direct attack on women’s health and rights,” Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This legislation is based on lies and a misinformation campaign, aimed at shaming women and criminalizing doctors for a practice that doesn’t exist in medicine or reality.”

Several medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women’s Association and the American Public Health Association, also have publicly opposed the bill, saying in a recent letter to senators that it “represents a dangerous government intrusion into private health-care decisions.”

Three Democrats — Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.) — joined all Republicans present in supporting the measure.

All of the announced 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — voted “no.”

The Republican push to pass these bills follows efforts in New York and Virginia to roll back restrictions surrounding late-term abortions, which represent a small minority of hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in the United States each year. Those abortions, experts say, typically are prompted by concerns for the mother’s health or fetal abnormalities.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.3 percent of abortions in 2015 were performed at 21 weeks of gestation or later. About 91 percent took place at or before 13 weeks of gestation.

The issue was thrust further into the national debate when Northam discussed in a January radio interview what would happen if a child were born after a failed abortion attempt. “The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” he said — a statement that many Republicans cast as endorsement of infanticide.

That included Trump, who said in his State of the Union address that Northam “basically stated he would execute a baby after birth.” Since then, House Republicans have attempted, and failed, to get a bill similar to Sasse’s taken up in the Democratic-controlled chamber. McConnell, meanwhile, scheduled valuable Senate floor time to put that chamber’s Democrats on the record on the issue.

In response, Democratic lawmakers have made an aggressive and often-exasperated case that infanticide is already illegal and that the “born alive” bills are a stalking horse for more-thorough abortion restrictions.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) described the bill Monday as “clearly anti-doctor, anti-woman and anti-family.”

“It has no place becoming law. Its proponents claim it would make something illegal that is already illegal,” Murray said on the Senate floor. She added that the legislation would “do nothing except help Republicans advance their goal of denying women their constitutionally protected rights.”