Bill to Protect Infants Marks Beginning of New Abortion Battle

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The Born Alive Infants Protection Act is being touted by some pro-life leaders as the first step in a long march toward overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The proposal, which is scheduled to be voted on in the House this week, would protect any infant that "breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles" after birth, "regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion."

Supporters in the House had hoped to bring the bill to a vote Tuesday, but it has been postponed until later in the week, possibly Wednesday. The bill will be considered on a "calendar vote," which requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

The bill comes out of the pro-life movement's search for a response to this summer's Supreme Court decision in Stenberg v. Carhart, which struck down a Nebraska law prohibiting partial birth abortion.

The virtue of the bill, said Hadley Arkes, a professor of jurisprudence at Amherst University in Massachusetts and a prominent pro-life writer, is that it helps to stop what he sees as a "terrible drift toward making the right to abortion the right to a dead child."

According to Arkes, by the logic of the decisions on partial birth abortion, there is no way to distinguish legally between the procedure and actual infanticide, which he feels opens the way to allowing the destruction of infants who survive abortion procedures.

"This establishes a bright line of legal protection," Arkes said.

The need to reestablish that bright line, says Arkes, follows the writings of Peter Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University, whose 1994 book, Should the Baby Live?, argued that "a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to live as others."

In an interview with, Singer emphasized that although his proposal is not a response to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, he opposes the bill, calling the effort to take away the right to let a disabled infant die "cruel and inhumane."

"If you want to insist that all efforts must be made to keep alive every child no matter how, no matter what disabilities the child was born with, I think that would be quite wrong," said Singer. "What I am suggesting is that we need to go the other way and make it clear that doctors and parents do have some discretion in these cases."

"[The 28 day waiting period is] not something that I necessarily believe is the best solution. I think it is a possible solution, but it's one worth considering," he continued. "That is about as far as I would go with it."

Singer added that there is nothing special about a period of 28 days; he only chose that number because of an ancient Greek tradition that allowed parents 28 days after a baby's birth to fully accept it into the community. If the baby was born with any deformity, according to Singer, the infant was left to die on a mountainside.

"It obviously gives the parents enough time to carefully examine and think about the nature of the disability it may have," said Singer.

Still, supporters of the bill caution that the Born Alive Infants Protection Act is but a first step in a long road.

"This bill is about laying a framework," said a House staff member familiar with the legislation. "There's still a lot of work to be done."

Editorial Assistant Jason Pierce contributed to this article