Congress recently passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which legally recognizes the basic rights of all children born alive, regardless of their stage of development.
The legislation, which I cosponsored with Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), developed as the result of a long congressional debate that began in 1995 over the procedure known as partial-birth abortion. Partial-birth abortion is a barbaric practice whereby a baby is partially delivered and then killed 20 to 22 weeks into a pregnancy. The baby is brought through the birth canal. Once the head is outside the mother, a pair of scissors is thrust into the back of the baby’s head. A vacuum tube is inserted in that hole and the baby’s brains are sucked out, snuffing out the life of the child.
Despite the best efforts of pro-lifers in Congress, a bill outlawing partial-birth abortion was vetoed twice by former president Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get enough votes to override the president’s veto. From this debate emerged the discussion as to when a human being has rights. More specifically, when does a baby outside of its mother’s womb become a person protected under the Constitution?
Throughout the course of the debate on banning the practice of partial-birth abortion, it became evident that Congress—and the nation as a whole—lacked any foundational consensus on an infant’s legal status. It would seem to be common sense that a child delivered by natural or induced labor, or by a cesarean section, is a person and is therefore protected under the nation’s laws.
The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act gives us a way to respond to the horrific practice of leaving unwanted infants in soiled utility rooms or other dark hospital areas to die. Registered nurses have testified about the prevalence of this gruesome practice before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. Every American is protected by law from torture or barbaric acts. Why should this be different for a helpless baby?
Although the legislation touches on a sensitive issue, it reestablishes a fact that all Americans know to be true: A child fully born is and should be treated as a legal entity. It is sad that an act of Congress is required to recognize this obvious reality. I am encouraged, however, by the overwhelming support this bill has garnered in the House and Senate. The fact that both chambers decided unanimously to pass a law establishing such protection is significant. It reminds us that the sanctity of human life is undeniable; it should therefore be safeguarded at all costs, at whatever stage of development. Once President Bush, who has publicly supported the ban, has signed the legislation, there will be no legal distinction between a senior citizen, an adolescent, and a newly born child. They will all bear equal dignity as persons with inalienable rights under the Constitution.
According to Pope John Paul II, “Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth.” From the moment of conception on, all human beings “belong to God who searches them and knows them, who forms them and knits them together with his own hands, who gazes on them when they are tiny shapeless embryos.” This guarantees the rights of the most vulnerable members of our society: helpless infants. It is a major victory for the pro-life movement, since it recognizes the personhood of children from the moment of their birth. Now we must turn our attention to protecting the lives of the more than one million children who are aborted each year. They too must be allowed to enjoy the full legal rights shared by Americans. Their cry must be heard. God’s law demands it.