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Virginia Democrats kill bill seeking to protect babies who survive abortions

Pro-Life Rally in Virginia
Pro-Life activists gather on Capitol Hill in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, to protest Gov. Ralph Northam's remarks in support of late-term abortion and allowing babies who survive abortion to die. |

Democratic lawmakers in Virginia defeated a bill that, if enacted, would have required medical professionals to provide care to babies who survive abortion procedures and would have made failing to do so a felony. 

Known as House Bill 304 and sponsored by Republican Del. Nick Freitas, the measure was killed in the Virginia Senate Rules Committee last Friday in a vote of 11-4.

The bill would have required abortion providers to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of an infant who has been born alive following such attempt as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

Additionally, abortion providers would also have needed to ensure the child is transported to a nearby hospital. Violations would have been subject to a Class 4 felony and disciplinary action from the state’s board of medicine. 

Opposition to the bill fell mostly on party lines, as the 11 who voted to “pass by indefinitely” on HB 304 were Democrats, with one Democrat, Sen. Chap Petersen, voting in favor of the bill.

Democrat Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond celebrated the result, declaring that “Virginia will remain a safe haven for reproductive health.” 

"This session, the Senate sent a clear message: we will not turn back the clock on access to abortion and reproductive rights in Virginia," McClellan said in a statement

The Virginia Society for Human Life, a state pro-life advocacy organization, released a statement on Facebook condemning the Senate committee for killing the bill.

“We should all be angry at the game playing of those who blocked the bill,” the organization contends. “This bill would prevent infanticide in Virginia. Those who opposed should be ashamed.”

Introduced in January and also known as the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 52-48 to pass HB 304 in February.

In 2019, then-Gov. Ralph Northam garnered national outrage when he appeared to endorse infanticide during an interview with local media outlet WTOP,

When discussing third-trimester abortions, Northam gave WTOP the hypothetical example of a mother giving birth to a child with “severe deformities” or is not viable.

“In this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable,” Northam said at the time.

“It would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired and then a discussion would ensue between the physician and the mother.”

Northam’s comments led to much backlash, with several states considering laws to protect babies who survive abortions, as well as a rebuke from the U.S. Sen Ben Sasse of Nebraska on the Senate floor. Sasse introduced a similar bill at the federal level.

“Let’s be clear what we’re talking about. We’re talking about killing a baby that’s been born. We’re not talking about some euphemism. We’re not talking about a clump of cells,” stated Sasse at the time.

“Everyone in the Senate ought to be able to say unequivocally that killing that little baby is wrong. This doesn’t take any political courage.”

States that have passed similar bills include West Virginia, South Dakota and Kentucky. Critics of such bills contend that laws are already on th books to protect children babies alive. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which granted legal rights to children born regardless of what stage of development.

However, the law doesn’t include any criminal penalties or requirements for what type of care should be provided to infants who survive failed abortions. 

Sasse’s bill would amend the federal criminal code to “prohibit a health care practitioner from failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an
abortion or attempted abortion.”

Doctors would be required “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.” Additionally, healthcare providers would need to ensure that the baby is transported to a hospital. Violators of the bill could face up to five years in prison if passed. 

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