Republicans Look to Push Democrats on Infanticide With Sasse Bill

After Patty Murray prevented a unanimous consent, Mitch McConnell may schedule a roll-call vote.
February 5, 2019
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Ben Sasse. (Photo by Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images)

Senate Republicans will not be dissuaded by Democrats’ attempts to ignore Ben Sasse’s bill banning infanticide. On Monday evening, Sasse called for a unanimous consent vote to pass his Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would strengthen criminal penalties against doctors and abortion practitioners who fail to provide medical care to infants born alive after botched abortions. Sasse moved to expedite a vote on the bill last week after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam made controversial comments that seemed to endorse infanticide by neglect in some such cases.

“We’re actually talking about babies that have been born,” Sasse said on the Senate floor Monday night. “The only debate on the floor tonight is about infanticide… Everyone in this Senate ought to be able to say that the little baby deserves life, that she has rights, and that killing her is wrong.”

Although Sasse “begged” Senate Democrats not to oppose the bill, which he argued should be uncontroversial, he did not expect them to go along: Prior to the Monday vote, a Sasse staffer told The Bulwark that “Schumer will likely object on behalf of his conference, or one of the 2020 candidates will make a big stink.”

Democrats, however, opted to try to ignore the bill to death: The sole Democrat who remained to object to the unanimous consent vote was relative backbencher Patty Murray, who argued that the legal code already prohibits infanticide and Sasse’s bill was unnecessary.

“This is a gross misinterpretation of the actual language of the bill that is being asked to be considered, and therefore I object,” Murray said.

No other Democrat even stuck around in the Senate chamber for the debate.

Senate Republicans may not let them off that easily, however. Majority Leader McConnell’s office declined to comment to The Bulwark on whether and when McConnell will force a roll-call vote on Sasse’s bill, but the leader threatened as much in a Monday statement: “I hope that none of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle invent any reasons to block this request later today. … If they do inexplicably block Senator Sasse’s effort, I can assure them that this will not be the last time we try to ensure that all newborns are afforded this fundamental legal protection.”

If McConnell follows through, it will be remarkable to see whether Democrats hold ranks against Sasse’s bill. Objecting to passage by unanimous consent on the grounds that the bill is being misrepresented is one thing; actually voting against strengthening legal protections for newborns is quite another.

Even so, Democratic senators will be under considerable pressure from their base to oppose the bill, given their activist base’s increasingly firm conviction that any legislation that threatens to curtail any woman’s ability to choose an abortion at any time for practically any reason is merely preamble to the great GOP push to implement reproductive theocracy. The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act passed the Senate unanimously in 2002. But we’re a long way from 2002 now.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger was a senior writer at The Bulwark.