On July 12, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing to examine a bill (H.R. 2175) that would change the definition of an individual under the U.S. criminal code. Immediately following the hearing, the subcommittee, without debate, approved the bill by voice vote.
Sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), the bill states that “the words ‘person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child,’ and ‘individual,’ shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.” During the 106th Congress, a similar bill was approved, 380-15, by the House on September 26, 2000. The Senate companion bill (S. 1050) was recently included in the Senate-passed patients’ bill of rights (S. 1052) (see The Source, 6/29/01, p. 1).
All of the witnesses testified in support of the bill. Professor Hadley Arkes of Amherst College said that the bill “offers the most modest and the gentlest step that is imaginable in dealing with the question of abortion.”
Dr. Watson Bowes, Jr., stated that as a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist he did not believe that the bill would “have a detrimental effect on either maternal or infant health care….This definition of live birth does not restrict a physician’s prerogative to recommend that medical care regarded as futile be withheld or withdrawn.”
Additionally, Jill Stanek, RN, told the subcommittee that she had witnessed babies survive therapeutic abortions but receive no medical care to enable long-term survival. “It became clearer to me than ever that a law must be enacted that specifies that all babies born alive are indeed humans and American citizens with civil rights to equal protection,” she stated.
During questioning, ranking Democrat Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) argued that the bill would not address situations in which hospitals do not provide adequate care to certain infants. “I don’t see how this bill would change the circumstances of those babies.”
Dr. Bowes reluctantly agreed, saying, “I don’t think this law changes the medical care of those babies.”