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Sue Lani: Born-Alive Act exposes Democrats’ vulnerability with young voters

Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Pregnancy ultrasounds were unusual back in the 1970s. A friend experiencing her first pregnancy was sure there were more than two feet kicking her belly. She suspected twins.

The doctor assured her he knew best, he’d delivered thousands of babies and she hadn’t. He was sure he knew what was coming. After delivery, the new father of twins went back to the furniture store, where a salesman benevolently sold him a second crib at the sale price.

For the generations coming of age prior to Roe v. Wade, pregnancy was mysterious and often hidden until a few months before delivery. Now, young women proudly post ultrasound pictures of their babies on social media at two months past conception. Baby’s first video may be online before baby makes an appearance in the delivery room.

Which is why the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act has exposed the Democrats’ greatest political vulnerability with young voters. When pink- and blue-themed “reveal” parties announce the sex of the baby before he or she arrives, we can’t pretend we don’t know what’s coming. The context for the reproductive health debate is no longer 1973. This generation tracks a baby’s growth in the womb as casually as filling out a grade-school height chart.

The Born-Alive Act was first offered for a simple unanimous consent vote in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

Sen. Patty Murray blocked it, a political move she may regret as one of the leaders of the Senate Democratic caucus. When the Born-Alive Act came back for a roll call vote, all but three Senate Democrats went on record voting to kill the act, including Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell. The bill required 60 votes to pass. It failed 53-44.

The text of the act says nothing about abortion, offers no restrictions on abortion, and specifically bars prosecution of the mother seeking the abortion. It only applies to the health care practitioners present and affirms their duty to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

It’s hard to understand why providing health care would be controversial for a leader of a party that insists health care is a right.

The statement from Murray implying the bill in any way affects or restricts the mother’s choices is misleading. The Born-Alive Act is silent on the mother’s health care. It only clarifies the duty of professional care owed to the baby after birth. To deny care or “to perform an overt act that kills a child born alive” in an attempt to cover up the malpractice of a botched abortion would be a criminal act. The act simply makes it clear the baby they were trying to kill a few moments before is now their patient.

And now Senate Democrats are on record thinking that’s a bad idea. Apparently defending abortion at all costs has a stranglehold on the Democratic Party despite medical advances over the past 40 years. Babies born at gestational ages when abortion is still legal in many places regularly survive and thrive. Providing all babies with health care shouldn’t be controversial.

Survivors of failed abortions are reaching adulthood and transforming the context of the debate again. Gianna Jessen is a gifted public speaker who prominently displays her birth certificate on her website, reading “born during saline abortion.” Melissa Ohden, also born during a failed abortion attempt, founded The Abortion Survivors Network to connect with others. Ohden estimates there are more than 68,000 survivors since Roe v. Wade. As the survivors network website says, they are more than a choice and more than a statistic. They have a voice, and they’re pro-life.

Murray had to kill the Born-Alive Act because admitting there’s a baby involved in an abortion exposes the dogmatic underpinnings of the Democratic coalition. Attempts to paint the Born-Alive Act as a political stunt is a desperate political stunt itself.

The question to Murray, Cantwell and the other party-line-over-principle Democrats is now: “When does a baby deserve health care?”

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