On April 1, the Washington Post reported that the medical examiner’s office does not plan to autopsy the bodies, though two anonymous officials told the Post that the decision not to do autopsies “could change if they receive additional information.” Executive Assistant Chief of Police Ashan Benedict said at a March 31 press conference that the five babies recovered “were aborted in accordance with D.C. law” and that an investigation into how the remains arrived at the apartment is ongoing.
Amherst College professor emeritus Hadley Arkes worried that the local authorities’ responses ignores existing abortion restrictions.
“The laws established a right of babies to be spared the awful partial-birth abortion, or to be killed even if they survived—but those rights can be rendered a nullity if the local authorities are determined to look the other way, and do nothing to enforce the laws,” he told CNA April 5.
Arkes was an early backer of what became the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, a 2002 law that recognized the need to protect infants who survived attempted abortions. However, the version signed into law lacked civil or criminal penalties.
“The only way to enforce the original act then was through the threat to withhold federal funds from hospitals and clinics, but that proved to be a discouragingly cumbersome process,” he said, attributing enforcement problems to Clinton administration holdovers in the George W. Bush-era U.S. Department of Justice.
For Arkes, the discovery of the five abortion victims “offers another powerful example” for efforts to restore civil and criminal penalties to the act. These had been stripped from the original bill in the 1990s, Arkes said, to help avoid a veto from then-president Bill Clinton. This later version was then signed into law by Bush in 2002.
Sasse is a regular co-sponsor of the Born-Alive Infant Abortion Survivors Act. The proposed legislation would require that babies born alive during botched abortions receive the same standard of care that other newborns of the same gestational age would. Violations by the abortion provider could be punished by five years in jail, a fine, or both. The mother of a child born alive in an abortion could not be prosecuted under the act, and would have the right to a civil action against those who violate it.
It has been introduced several times in Congress, but has failed to become law.
Since 2003, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban has barred abortions which use this technique with a fine or imprisonment up to two years.
The ban was the topic of questions at an April 6 hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor. Testifying before the committee, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declined to admit that such abortions are illegal.
In response to a question about the ban from U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, Becerra said his job is to enforce the law, and then affirmed the pro-abortion rights Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, Fox News reports. This decision, in his view, means “women have reproductive rights that they are entitled to enforce and that they are entitled to have the government respect. I will do everything I can to make sure a woman's rights and reproductive care are defended.”
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Becerra had voted against the ban as a Member of Congress from California. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in a 5-4 decision.
Wills told CNA that, to her knowledge, there have been no prosecutions for violations of the partial-birth abortion ban.
She said that Leroy Carhart, a late-term abortionist based in Nebraska, has admitted doing them.
“He has been civilly sued by a woman who was seriously injured,” she said. Carhart and others face a lawsuit in Maryland federal court from a woman who said she suffered multiple internal injuries and permanent damage during a May 2020 abortion at his Bethesda clinic. The woman was 25 weeks pregnant at the time.
“Frankly, a lot of women injured in abortions do not come forward because of the stigma attached to abortion still,” Wills told CNA. “It only takes one or two courageous souls to come forward.”
Arkes said those who wanted to strengthen the Born Alive Infants Protection Act took renewed motivation from the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor. His abortion clinic’s practices led to his conviction of three counts of murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. He was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient who died of an overdose in 2009.