Senate Democrats on Monday blocked a GOP effort to introduce a billl meant to protect abortion survivors, which came in response to comments last week by Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam that seemingly endorsed post-birth abortions in certain cases.
Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse sought unanimous consent to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would have required that "any health care practitioner present" at the time of a birth "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."
The bill, which exempted the mother involved in the birth from prosecution, also would have required practitioners to "ensure that the child born alive is immediately transported and admitted to a hospital."
It prescribed a possible term of imprisonment of up to five years for violations, not including penalties for first-degree murder that could also apply.
Sasse was joined in introducing the bill by several Republican lawmakerse, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.
However, Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray objected to Sasse's bill, saying the legislation was unnecessary and amounted to a political stunt.
"We have laws against infanticide in this country," Murray said. "This is a gross misinterpretation of the actual language of the bill that is being asked to be considered and therefore, I object."
Sasse, speaking on the Senate floor, told his colleagues that "frankly, this shouldn't be hard" to pass.
"In this country, all of us are created equal," Sasse said. "Because if that equality means anything, surely it means that infanticide is wrong."
Sasse specifically charged that Northam had "tarnished the American idea of equality under law, betrayed the universal truth of human dignity, and turned the stomachs of civilized people not just in this country but in every country on earth" by "endorsing infanticide."
Sasse quoted Northam's comment in an interview with a local radio station last week.
"When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physicians, more than one physician, by the way," Northam said. "And it's done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that's non-viable."
Northam continued: "So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. 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. So I think this was really blown out of proportion."
The Virginia governor made the remark while discussing The Repeal Act, which sought to repeal restrictions on third-trimester abortions. Virginia Democratic Del. Kathy Tran, a sponsor, was asked at a hearing if a woman about to give birth and dilating could still request an abortion.
“My bill would allow that, yes,” she said. Existing state law does not put an absolute time limit on abortions and Tran's legislation does not alter that, but it does loosen restrictions on the need to get additional certification from doctors.
The bill was tabled in committee last week.
Northam has since insisted his comments were taken out of context, and that criticisms directed against him were "shameful and disgusting."
His remarks, Sasse said Monday, were a symptom of a larger sentiment in the Democratic Party.
"Just a few years ago the abortion lobby was really clear in its talk in hoping that abortion would be ‘safe, and legal, but rare,'" Sasse said. "This was the slogan. Abortion would be 'safe, legal, and rare,' Now we’re talking about keeping the baby comfortable while the doctor have a debate about infanticide."
"If equality means anything, surely it means that infanticide is wrong."
Northam and the Virginia Democratic political establishment have since become engulfed in controversy, with almost all prominent Democrats calling for Northam to resign, after the discovery of a racist photograph in his medical school yearbook page. The photograph reportedly was leaked by a "concerned citizen" unhappy with Northam's abortion comment.
Northam has resisted the calls for his resignation, and has reversed his previous statement confirming that he appeared as one of the people in the photograph. On Monday, Virginia Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, when asked by a reporter, pointedly did not rule out the possibility that Northam could have been pushing a newly revealed sexual assault allegation against Fairfax to derail his possible ascent to the governorship.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana, the Supreme Court is temporarily keeping a state law regulating abortion clinics on hold.
Justice Samuel Alito said in a brief order Friday that the justices need more time to review arguments for and against the law, which requires doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law was set to take effect Monday, though clinics have asked the high court to block its enforcement.
The clinics said at least one and maybe two of Louisiana's three abortion clinics would have to close if the law was allowed to take effect. A federal appeals court that upheld the law said it wasn't clear that any clinic would close.
Fox News' Andrew O'Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.