Republicans and Democrats in the Texas legislature voted to strengthen protections for babies born after surviving attempted abortions, but in North Carolina the governor could veto a similar bill.
In the Texas House of Representatives, a 93-1 vote included 12 Democrats voting in favor and 50 declaring themselves “present, not voting.” A similar Senate bill passed with a vote of 21-10, with two Democrats backing the legislation.
Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano, the House bill’s sponsor, said the legislation is about “protecting innocent life, a baby who is born alive.” He said the bill was an opportunity to unite across party lines, adding, “as much as the issue of abortion has historically divided this country, this state and even this body at times, to me there should be no debate on this issue.” He said the bill adds enforcement to existing law, which in his view does not go far enough, the Dallas Morning News reports.
Democrats favoring the bill included Dallas Rep. John Turner and others who largely represented the heavily Catholic southern Texas.
Turner said he did not see the bill as being about reproductive rights, but rather as addressing “an extremely rare circumstance.” In his 2018 campaign he had said he would not vote for legislation that would restrict abortion access.
Houston Democrat Harold Dutton, the sole vote against the bill, urged others to declare themselves “present, not voting.” Dutton charged the legislation was “blatantly false, inflammatory and dangerous.”
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said no infants were reported to be born alive after abortion procedures in Texas from 2013 to 2016. Over 219,000 abortions were performed in the state during that period.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures said that more than 140 infants died in U.S. cases related to induced abortion from 2003 to 2014, the Associated Press reports.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List, said government figures suggest 25 babies were born alive during abortion procedures in the year 2017 in Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota.
Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, said there was no record of post-abortion births in the state and said infanticide was already illegal. She argued that the proposal did not merit debate and would stigmatize women’s health decisions, while traumatizing families whose unborn child has severe anomalies.
“The misinformation perpetuated by this bill is dangerous and is the exact type of rhetoric that leads to threats against providers,” she said. Howard, who has a background as a medical nurse, said she was “insulted by the implication that I or any other nurse or doctor ... would not do any and everything in our power to provide care to any medically stressed human being.”
Differences between the bills still require legislative action before they head to the governor. House Bill 16 would allow the state attorney general to sue a physician who fails to treat a live infant, for a fine of at least $100,000. In cases of “gross negligence,” offenders could face a third-degree felony charge penalized by imprisonment of two to ten years. The Senate bill would give the same penalties regardless of whether there was a finding of gross negligence.
Democratic State Sens. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo voted for the bill, the Texas Tribune reports. Two House Republicans did not vote: Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston, who filled in for Bonnen. While it is common practice for the speaker or presiding chair not to vote, Davis has advocated for abortion rights, the Dallas Morning News reports.
Texas and 25 other states require physicians to provide medical care and treatment to infants who are born alive at any stage of development.
In North Carolina, the House of Representatives voted 65-46 to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, Senate Bill 359. The Senate passed the bill by a 28-19 vote, the Raleigh News and Observer reports.
However, some observers said the response to the bill from the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s office suggested that he would veto the bill, the Associated Press reports.
“This unnecessary legislation would criminalize doctors for a practice that simply does not exist,” said Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper.
The legislation would require medical practitioners to provide sufficient care for babies who survive abortion. Failure to do so could mean prison time and up to $250,000 in fines.
The bill also mandates that medical professionals report a baby who has survived an abortion and received insufficient care. If signed into law, it would allow relatives of a baby who died to file a civil lawsuit.
The Republican-controlled legislature lost its veto-proof supermajority in the 2018 elections and will need Democratic support if the governor vetoes the bill.
“Do any of you really think that infanticide is legal in North Carolina?” said bill critic State Rep. Susan Fisher, a Buncombe County Democrat. She objected that the Republican-controlled legislature would have acted sooner, when it had a veto-proof supermajority, if legislators believed babies were being left to die or killed after a failed abortion. She argued that the measure aimed to intimidate health care providers who conducted legal abortions.
Other critics opposed charging medical providers with murder, said the legislation interfered with a woman’s right to abortion, or interfered with medical actions between a physician and a pregnant woman.
Others said the bill addressed a real injustice.
“I can attest to the fact that infanticide has happened here in North Carolina,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican from Carteret County. “I’ve been witness to the result of those late-term abortions.”
She said that earlier in her career in Jacksonville, N.C., she encountered a local doctor who performed abortions. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, she alleged this unnamed doctor preserved bodies of unborn babies at his office, which she believed to have survived abortion but were drowned in saline.
“Nurses told stories of babies who were born alive and were taken by the doctor and turned face down in the saline,” she said.
Federal born-alive legislation failed to pass Congress earlier this year.
In May 2013 Philadelphia-based abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of babies at his clinic. A government raid on his clinic found filthy conditions and human remains. State authorities had not inspected his clinic in years.
The illegal sale of fetal tissue and baby body parts for profit has also become prominent due to undercover videos published by the Center for Medical Progress that appear to show such activity by major abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. The videos have prompted concern that some babies targeted for abortion are delivered alive to provide intact bodies for tissue harvesters.