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Bill That Would Regulate Doctors' Care Of Babies Who Survive Abortions Fails In Senate


Yesterday, the Senate took up a bill that would have made sure doctors provide care for any child that survives an abortion. Fifty-three senators supported the bill, including three Democrats. That is not the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster, so the bill fails to advance. But even so, this issue is not likely to go away any time soon. The president offered his take soon after the vote, saying Democrats, quote, "don't mind executing babies." Here to discuss the bill and the politics behind it is Mike DeBonis. He covers Congress for The Washington Post, and he joins us now. Hey, Mike.

MIKE DEBONIS: Hey, Mary Louise. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So what would this bill have done?

DEBONIS: Well, what it would've done would be to write into federal law that doctors, any health care provider would have to provide the same care to a child born after an attempted abortion that they would provide to any child born at the same gestational age. That is at the same time both very specific about what it requires doctors to do, which is do something - do the same as you would for another child, and it's also very vague. It doesn't say any particular type of intervention.

KELLY: So this prompts the question - is it clear that this law is needed to protect newborn lives? The sponsor of the bill, Senator Ben Sasse, Republican, and other Republican supporters of the bill say, yes, this is needed. This is about preventing doctors from committing infanticide.

DEBONIS: Well, there is a very strong dispute over how frequently these sorts of situations arise. Ben Sasse and other supporters of the bill say there are many occasions at which, after abortions, there are these children born alive. On the other hand, people opposing this bill say that these circumstances are exceedingly rare. And when they do happen, that these are in circumstances where you either have the life or health of the mother at stake, or you have a fetus, a child who is not likely to survive outside the womb for any length of time. And basically, their argument is that you are perhaps impairing a doctor's best judgment at how to handle cases like this and that there are already standards and certainly laws in place to prevent infanticide, which is the word that the supporters of this bill keep using.

KELLY: And just to be clear, statistically, for a baby to survive in this situation, it needs to be fairly late stage in the pregnancy. And abortions performed at the very latest stages of pregnancy represent a small fraction of abortions overall.

DEBONIS: That's right. We are talking about these very few cases that happen in the very latest stages of pregnancy.

KELLY: Give me a sense of what is happening on the state level in Virginia and New York, for example, that has led to this being debated at the national level.

DEBONIS: Sure. In New York, you had a successful push in the legislature to remove existing restrictions to late-term abortions. In Virginia, you had a unsuccessful effort to do largely the same thing. But it's the Virginia bill that was ultimately unsuccessful that really sort of spurred a lot of interest in this when you had the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam - he made some comments that were interpreted by a lot of conservatives to be what they considered a de facto description of infanticide. And that drove a lot of interest in this.

KELLY: All right. We saw President Trump taking it up in the State of the Union address, for example.

DEBONIS: That's right. He referred directly to Governor Northam in what he said.

KELLY: The fact that this came to a vote in the Senate at all - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is famous for not letting bills come to the floor that he doesn't want to come to the floor. What can you tell us about why he allowed this one to do so?

DEBONIS: Well, I think it's pretty simple that he sees a political moment here in an issue that is uniting Republicans and dividing Democrats. You did see an uproar among conservatives after Governor Northam made his comments, and you did see some divisions in the Democratic ranks. You had three Democrats, including Doug Jones, who will be up for re-election next year, voting for it. So in Mitch McConnell's mind, that's a no-brainer. If it keeps your people united and divides your opponents, you should go ahead and put it up for a vote.

KELLY: Thank you, Mike.

DEBONIS: Thank you.

KELLY: He covers Congress for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.