September 26, 2000
Dear Member of Congress:
You may soon consider H.R. 4292, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. I urge you to help ensure swift enactment of this modest but important legislation.
The Act reaffirms what should be obvious: Each infant who is fully born and shows signs of life must be recognized in law as a human person. The point is so obvious that, until recently, the chief argument against the Act was that it seemed redundant and unnecessary.
That argument was dramatically rebutted in a July 20 statement issued by the National Abortion Rights Action League. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision, NARAL criticized H.R. 4292 for "directly contradicting one of Roe's central tenets." NARAL faulted the Act for reaffirming that infants born prematurely are human persons, and declared: "Roe v. Wade clearly states that women have the right to choose prior to fetal viability."
Many have criticized abortion advocates for insisting on the vacuously incomplete phrase "right to choose." We had assumed the phrase was coined to avoid the brutal reality of abortion. Now an even more grim possibility presents itself: The object of the verb was omitted so the "pro-choice" agenda could encompass killing after birth, in addition to killing prior to birth by abortion.
NARAL was no doubt emboldened to unveil this broader agenda by recent abortion decisions in the federal courts. In its June 28 decision in Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court extended its abortion jurisprudence to protect the killing of partly-born children — giving encouragement, however unwittingly, to those who would justify outright infanticide. And in July, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals struck down New Jersey's ban on partial-birth abortion, saying that a partly-born child is not in the process of being born because "a woman seeking an abortion is plainly not seeking to give birth." Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey v. Farmer, 220 F.3d 127, 143 (3rd Cir. 2000). Given this rationale, some courts seem just a step away from concluding that a fully-born infant has no right to live if her mother originally intended to abort her. This appalling trend is sufficient in itself to warrant immediate passage of H.R. 4292.
Some physicians and ethicists have claimed the Act would limit medical decision-making regarding infants with little chance of survival. But this is absurd. Decisions to limit or withdraw aggressive treatment are made every day in this country, involving patients who are very young, very old and every age in between. Our courts have issued hundreds of rulings allowing patients, families and physicians to make such decisions. We have agreed with some of those decisions, and disagreed with others. But our legal system has never accepted the proposition that any patient in these cases is not a human person, or that killing such a patient is anything but a homicide. If such propositions are in fact being entertained by some physicians and ethicists, that is another reason for Congress to pass H.R. 4292 without delay.
We make no apologies for our stance on abortion. We hold, and have always held, that Roe v. Wade was an immoral and unjust decision which must be reversed. Indeed, we have always held that the license to take human life articulated in Roe would undermine respect for human life after birth as well – and we have seen ample evidence in recent months that this has happened. However, the Supreme Court's majority has made it clear that, until the Court's own thinking changes or a constitutional amendment can be passed, no child in the womb (or even partly in the womb) will have meaningful legal protection. Our immediate task, as this Congress nears its end, is to ensure that the lethal mentality of Roe does not claim new victims – vulnerable human beings struggling for their lives outside the womb.
To ensure that the abortion mentality does not expand to undermine the rights of fully born infants, I urge Congress to approve the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.
Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
National Conference of Catholic Bishops