By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
July 7, 2019
A law that would have helped save babies born alive in North Carolina during attempted abortions came to its own tragic end on Wednesday when bill sponsors failed to garner enough votes to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. After more than an hour of impassioned debate, the House voted 67 in support and 53 opposed, falling five votes short of the needed supermajority. Only two Democrats, Charles Graham of Robeson County and Rep. Garland Pierce of Scotland County, voted for Senate Bill 359 – Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
“There are some days that lawmakers take a vote on a bill and it fails to pass or isn’t defeated and you say to yourself, ‘Well, that’s not good.’ And you move on. But after the override of the Governor’s objections to the Born-Alive bill failed to gain enough votes, you knew something profoundly tragic had just happened,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “The vote was historic in import and the result surely garnered the displeasure of the Almighty. If the trajectory of our culture isn’t changed from this death spiral downward, we will surely end up in hell as a nation.”
Filed partly in response to efforts in New York and Virginia to legalize infanticide, SB 359 would have made it a felony for doctors to deny appropriate medical care to babies born alive after a failed abortion and would have required nurses and other staff to report the incidents. It passed both chambers earlier this year before being nixed by Cooper, who said it was unnecessary. On April 30, the Senate overrode the governor’s veto, sending the matter back to the House, whose Speaker on Wednesday left his place of presiding over the body to speak from the floor and from his heart.
“What kind of civilized society cannot stand up and say you have to take care of a defenseless baby when it is born whether it was wanted or not?” said Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “That is what this bill says today. This bill is a matter of life or death. This bill, if it goes into law, will save lives. And if you don’t believe me just look into the eyes of some of those who did live.”
Moore had shared the stories of abortion-survivors Gianna Jessen and Claire Culwell, who were in the chamber during the vote. Jessen’s 17-year-old mother sought an abortion in the 30th week of her pregnancy. Jessen survived the procedure, was born alive at 2.5 pounds, and was later adopted. She suffers from cerebral palsy but has shared her story all over the world, speaking for life on behalf of those who can’t. Culwell, whose mother was just 13 when she became pregnant, was born with many health challenges after her twin was aborted. She too has dedicated her life to pro-life efforts.
Moore told his colleagues that he could think of no other issue that the House had dealt with since his arrival in 2003 that was as important as SB 359 and tried to convince them that voting for the bill was not voting against abortion.
“You can be the most strident pro-choice supporter and vote for this override because this is about what happens when a baby is born,” Moore said.
Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) echoed the sentiment, reminding fellow lawmakers that, very similarly to the Declaration of Independence, the North Carolina Constitution holds forth that all persons are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“We, the elected, are here to protect life. That’s what it’s about. Our founding documents give us that very basic instruction,” Kidwell said. “This is not a social issue. This is not a political issue, nor is it a religious issue. This is an issue of whether the Great State of North Carolina will sanction the murder of a baby. Do you want to wear that banner today?”
Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) told the House they were at a crossroads, determining whether to “go back to the evils of ancient civilizations” or “move forward with the enlightenment that we claim to be ours today.”
He said that during Roman times when unwanted babies were often abandoned outside the city and left to die, Christians reaffirmed the belief that every child is created in the image of God and therefore precious and worthy of protection by rescuing them.
“That is our heritage as Christians. Are we going to deny that today?” Pittman asked. “Children are born into various circumstances. I don’t care what the circumstances are, once a child is born it has entered human society. Mahatma Gandhi a long time ago said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. And there is none more vulnerable than a newborn baby.”
Even as Republicans rose to urge passage of the veto override, the House also heard from the bill’s passionate detractors. Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) insisted the bill was unnecessary.
“By practice and according to the law of N.C as well as federal law, all living infants in N.C. are legally entitled to the care that they need. Any overt act to injury or cause death to a living infant is already punishable as murder,” she said, trying her best to turn lawmakers’ attention away from the baby and toward the mother and the doctors, who she claimed would be harmed by the law.
“There is absolutely no need in this world for politicians to criminalize complex medical decisions that are best made by patients and the valiant physicians that care for them,” Butler said insisting that late-term abortions are rare and performed only because there is an immediate threat to the health of the mother or because the infant suffers from a severe abnormality.
But Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret) pointed out CDC statistics showing more than 200 cases of born-alive babies who survived abortion in the handful of states that report such incidents. It is estimated that the actual number tops 400.
Whether 400 or four, the point is that the most responsible choice is “to give life the benefit of the doubt,” Dr. Creech says. “The Born-Alive legislation shouldn’t have been difficult for anyone possessing a proper respect for life.”
Read Rev. Creech’s Editorial: When there is Uncertainty, the Benefit of the Doubt Should Be Given to Life
Creech also said the CAL’s intern, Terrell Listenbee tirelessly lobbied House members on the bill and was relatively certain that at least five Democrats would cross-over and vote for the override.
“Unfortunately, when it came to the vote on the floor, three who had given indications that they would support the override did not come through,” Creech said. “Only two Democrats voted for the override when we needed at least seven. Listenbee and I were always concerned that we were still 2 votes shy of what was needed. We could only hope and pray that the two votes of who were noncommittal might have a smiting of conscience and do the right thing, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, we actually had only had 2 Democrat votes to override and were short by 5. As Christians, we never grieve about anything as those with no hope because the Lord is always in control and working out his purposes, which can never ultimately be defeated. Nevertheless, it was still a very tragic and painful ending.”