Bill Requires Care For Infants Born Live During Abortion Procedure

Mar 19, 2013

A measure is making its way through the Florida House that would require doctors to provide medical care for a baby who is born alive during or right after an abortion procedure. But opponents worry the measure could also cut back on women’s rights.

Representative Cary Pigman, a Republican from Sebring, is the bill’s sponsor in the House. He said the measure has nothing to do with the procedure of an abortion. And he said the term “born alive” is clearly defined in the bill.

“It defines a born alive infant as one who draws a breath, has a beating heart or makes voluntary movement,” Pigman said.

Pigman's bill would require humane and professional medical treatment for a born alive infant no matter how the infant enters the world. It would also stipulate that the mother of a born alive infant who has sought an abortion would be presumed to have surrendered her child. Finally, it would put a reporting procedure in place. But Representative Clovis Watson, a Democrat from Gainesville, said he has some concerns about what that would mean for a mother who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion.

“You have a mother who at a late term, has an abortion, because her life is threatened and her doctor tells her so. She doesn’t want to have the abortion, but she has to to save her life. The baby lives. She automatically loses the rights to that baby?”

And Representative Joe Saunders, a Democrat from Orlando, said he takes issues with the implication contained in that piece of the bill.

“My problem with this language is that it assumes the worst about a woman. It assumes that she is ending a pregnancy because she doesn’t want a child. I feel like that’s the subtext of that language," Saunders said.

But, Representative Pigman said before the surrender becomes official a judge must hear the case, and Pigman said in a case like that the judge could side with the biological mother.

“In that circumstance the child is going to be pre-term, likely. And will go to the hospital for treatment, likely. And will go to a hospital for treatment. The section that involves surrender, does involve a rebuttable period. The decision on who gets custody or responsibility of the child is not final until a judge reports and that kind of testimony could be provided in court," Pigman said.

But Saunders said he’d like to see the language flipped. So, instead the law would assume the mother wants to keep the child, but leave room for judges to ask more questions about parental rights in some cases. And Pigman said that’s something he’d be willing to consider as the bill moves forward. Pigman also said he’s consider another of Saunder’s suggestions—adding a provision called the “neutrality clause” that Saunders said is included in similar federal legislation.

“It’s language that makes clear this law is not intended to challenge a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy,” Saunders said.

But Pigman denied Saunders’s proposal to add the language to the legislation through an amendment in Tuesday's meeting, saying such an amendment would be considered "unfriendly."  The measure passed through the committee 10-2.  A similar bill is the Senate has not yet been heard.

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