The so-called Born Alive Abortion Survivors bill passed the state house yesterday and now goes to the governor. It’s an odious piece of legislation designed to score political points by firing up the GOP base. It’s also a remarkably cruel piece of legislation that will cause serious pain to families already reeling from devastatingly difficult decisions. Republicans should be ashamed.

The whole episode came up when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatrician, discussed late term abortion in a radio interview. Northam said third trimester abortions occur “in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s nonviable.” He went on to describe what would happen, saying babies would be born, resuscitated, if the parents wanted, and kept comfortable while doctors and parents discussed next moves. 

Anti-abortion fanatics and GOP provocateurs ran with it. In the age of outrage, they accused Northam of infanticide. Republican politicians, sensing a way to further demonize Democrats and incite their base, took up the charge. In North Carolina, it led to the bill that passed the house yesterday and Republicans will now go into election season claiming that Democrats voted to allow doctors to kill babies who survived abortions. It’s disgusting. 

In reality, as Northam pointed out, late-term abortions are almost always performed because of because of severe deformities. Only 1.3% of abortions are performed after 21 weeks. You can be sure that the vast majority of those involve agonizing decisions by parents who were expecting normal, healthy babies. As Northam said, babies would be kept comfortable while parents and doctors made the decision how to proceed. Now, the legislature has made that decision for them.  They’ll fight to keep babies alive regardless of prognosis or condition.

What kind of deformities might they be? Well, one is a disorder called anencephaly. Babies with this condition lack all or much of their brain. They lack the ability to think. They can survive birth but usually die within a few hours or days. This bill demands doctors, “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.” In other words, they must make the same effort to keep a child with anencephaly alive as they would a child born prematurely that could go on to live a normal life. 

So imagine the pain of a family meeting with a doctor and learning their child has anencephaly six months into a pregnancy. After an agonizing period of mourning, they decide to terminate the pregnancy instead of carrying the baby to term. If the baby survived the abortion, this bill would ensure that doctors did all they could keep the child alive, not let it die in comfort, regardless of the wishes of the parents. Hooking it to tubes and ventilators might keep the heart beating and lungs breathing for days. That’s not treatment; that’s cruelty.  

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