Mohandas Gandhi is often credited with saying that

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

Regardless of its source, the aphorism rings true, and this past week Senator Ben Sasse (NE) sponsored a bill for the humane treatment of abortion survivors. This was in response to a failed late-term abortion bill introduced in the Virginia state legislature, which received national attention not only for comments from its sponsor but also from the Governor of the Commonwealth.

Joe Carter has posted an explainer about the controversy as well as the details of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act over at the Gospel Coalition website. The bill itself can also be viewed here.

Sasse introduced the bill for unanimous consent, but the vote failed as Senator Patty Murray (WA) objected. One reason that she gave (besides the accusation that Sasse misinterpreted the language of the bill) was that infanticide is already illegal. “We have laws against infanticide in this country,” she said.

But is this entirely accurate?

As explained by Carter and elsewhere, “only 26 states have affirmative protections for children born alive after attempted abortions.”

More than that, is it accurate to say—as Senator Murray seems to imply—that Sasse’s legislation is superfluous?

As noted by the Christian Post, “A similar bill, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, but that legislation didn’t contain any penalties or enforcement mechanisms.”

In fact, the intent of Sasse’s bill is an amendment to US code which would prohibit heath care practitioners from failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a born-alive child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.

It is one thing to make infanticide illegal. It is quite another to ensure that these children receive appropriate, humane care when they are born.

In addition to guaranteeing medical care, Sasse’s bill would declare born-alive abortion survivors to be legal persons under US law, entitled to protections the same as any newborn or other living person. This would include immediate admission to a hospital. The same degree of care would be exercised as for any other child born alive at the same gestational age. These protections would ensure that the child is transported and admitted to a hospital.

The bill also includes mandatory reporting by other health care practitioners or employees (with knowledge of violations), penalties (i.e. fines, up to 5 yrs. in prison, or both) for failure to comply, and protections barring prosecutions for mothers. Provisions also exist for mothers to take civil action against health care practitioners who violate the bill, including appropriate relief for damages and attorneys’ fees pending outcome of litigation.

So while Senator Murray’s objection is technically true as far as it goes, it doesn’t go nearly far enough to clarify the distinctions and amendments to US code intended by Senator Sasse’s bill. Though Sasse’s motion was defeated—it did not receive unanimous consent—both Senate and House Republicans have indicated that his bill and similar legislation will be considered again in the near future.

If America truly wants to be a great nation, this bill seems to be an obvious starting point that we all should be able to agree upon.   As the Senator said in his closing remarks,

“Even the weakest and most marginalized among us is no less human, and every one of us has a moral obligation to defend the defenseless.”

*Image attributed to Gage Skidmore.