After Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam described what would happen to a baby born alive after a botched abortion, Republican legislatures began sending infanticide bills to Democratic governors daring them to use their veto pens.
And so far, the Democrats are taking that dare.
Two weeks ago, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which would require medical care for babies who survive abortion attempts and impose criminal penalties for doctors who fail to provide “appropriate and reasonable care,” including up to 20 years in prison.
In North Carolina, Republicans are trying to muster the votes to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto in April of a similar measure. An infanticide bill has yet to reach the desk of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, but he has already vowed to veto it.
Democrats have criticized the measures as redundant, saying such protections are already in place, while conservatives have another message: See you at the ballot box.
In North Carolina, “I think it will paint a stark contrast between a sitting governor who is the governor of infanticide, and [Republicans] who would have signed this bill,” said NC Values executive director Tami Fitzgerald.
“He’s on the wrong side of this issue, he’s on the wrong side of history, and I think the election in 2020 will prove it,” she said.
The infanticide debate appeared to crest in Congress after Senate Democrats blocked a floor vote on Feb. 25 — House Republicans are still trying to bring a bill to the floor — but the issue was quickly picked up by state Republicans as they force Democrats to take a stand on a no-win issue.
For that, Democrats can thank Mr. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, who stunned onlookers when he appeared to endorse in a Jan. 30 interview the withholding of medical care for an infant born alive after an attempted abortion.
“I can tell you exactly what would happen,” Mr. Northam told WTOP-FM in Washington, D.C. “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. 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.”
The ensuing blackface scandal pushed his remarks under the political radar, but Republicans and pro-life activists didn’t forget. Democrats blame politics for the GOP push.
“Senate Bill 354 is a reflection of a divisive national debate that has little to do with the health of infants or women,” said Mr. Bullock in his May 8 signing statement. “Federal law already provides for protections and medical care for infants.”
Few Democrats have strayed from the party line, but those who do find themselves defying some of the party’s most powerful supporters, starting with Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
In North Carolina, Democratic state Sen. Don Davis became a hero to the pro-life movement when he cast the deciding vote last month to override the governor’s veto — the House has yet to vote — but he was quickly targeted by the pro-Democrat group NC Strong.
A total of six House and Senate Democrats broke ranks to vote in favor of the North Carolina infanticide measure. Five were black and one was Native American.
“Unfaithful Democrats like Davis undermine the work voters put in to break a Republican supermajority and ensure checks and balances in a state run roughshod by an extremist right-wing legislature,” said NC Strong in a statement. “The power of Governor Cooper’s veto pen is one of the only things keeping the conservatives in power from dismantling North Carolina’s political system. Davis and his disloyal cronies in Raleigh are betraying their voters by not supporting the Governor.”
At the same time, Democrats who have opposed infanticide bills risk paying a political price at the ballot box with voters who may support legalized abortion, but draw the line at the scenario laid out by Mr. Northam.
“There are Democrats and pro-choice people, and they’re looking around going, ‘So we’re for infanticide now?'” said Shawn Carney, who heads 40 Days for Life. “It is a complete disconnect from all Americans who have their wits about them, and it’s a disrespect to the issue itself.”
Nobody is more exposed on the issue than the Democratic governors, but Mr. Bullock, who was term-limited, is unlikely to face the voters of Montana any time soon after declaring his long-shot candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In Wisconsin, Mr. Evers, who was elected in November, has the advantage of time with nearly four more years left on his first term.
It’s another story in North Carolina, where Republicans are already lining up to challenge Mr. Cooper, leaving little doubt that his veto of the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act will loom large in the 2020 campaign.
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is expected to challenge the governor, called the Senate override a “[g]ood first step to ensuring the life of a newborn is protected.”
“My hope is that those members of the House that are needed to override this veto have the same moral and ethical courage as the members of the Senate,” said Mr. Forest in a May 6 statement on the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List website.
Pro-lifers cite a McLaughlin & Associates poll conducted for the SBA List that showed 77 percent of respondents agreed that a baby born alive after an abortion should receive the same medical care as any other premature infant.
Democrats have argued that such born-alive scenarios are all but non-existent, citing Centers for Disease Control statistics from 2015 that found 1.3 percent of abortions were performed after 21 weeks’ gestation.
“Laws already protect newborn babies and this bill is an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients,” Mr. Cooper said in a statement. “This needless legislation would criminalize doctors and other healthcare providers for a practice that simply does not exist.”
Pro-life activists beg to differ, citing CDC figures from 2003-14 showing that between 376 and 588 infants were born alive after a “termination of pregnancy,” and that they lived anywhere from minutes to one or more days. The CDC noted that the figure could be an underestimate.
Then there’s Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor convicted in 2013 of killing three born-alive infants, although the grand jury report found that there were hundreds of “snippings,” his term for cutting the spinal cord.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise has gathered nearly 200 signatures on a discharge petition to bring an infanticide bill to the floor, but would need Democratic support to reach 218 signatures, or a majority, to force a vote.
In North Carolina, House Republicans need crossover votes to reach the 60 percent threshold needed to override Mr. Cooper’s veto after losing their supermajority in November. The chamber has yet to schedule an override vote.
“I think the chances are very real,” said Ms. Fitzgerald. “I think there are several Democrats who really don’t support infanticide like our governor does, and they are weighing the consequences.”
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