Commentary

Governor’s veto of “born-alive” bill is sustained despite passionate pleas to mix religion and policy

Yesterday, the state House of Representatives voted to sustain Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359, the so-called “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.”

Senator Joyce Krawiec (R-Davie), the primary sponsor of the bill, as well as House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), repeatedly stated that the bill was “not about abortion.”

“Today’s bill we are discussing is when a child is born alive,” said Speaker Moore at a press conference he held before the vote, “and what the standard of care is for that child at that time.”

What is the standard of care for that child at that time? According to legal experts, it’s the exact same standard of care as any other child born in any other circumstance would receive.

“If a parent doesn’t feed their newborn and it dies, they get charged with murder,” said Greg Doucette, a Durham-based criminal defense attorney, to PolitiFact. “I don’t see why a medical provider would be substantively different.”

The Moore press conference featured a pair of women who identified themselves as “abortion survivors,” Gianna Jessen and Claire Culwell, who emphasized that lawmakers would have to answer to God about their votes.

“We’re told, ‘Don’t bring religion into anything. Oh no, we can’t have God, who brings life,’” said Jessen. “Oh, never say Jesus! But I will… You will stand before a holy God one day. We all will.”

Unfortunately for the bill and fortunately for our democracy, “because I think Jesus Christ would have wanted it” is not a reasonable justification for a law.

The debate on the House floor, which lasted over an hour, featured some remarkable statements from bill proponents.

Representative Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus), who once infamously described Abraham Lincoln as the “same sort (of) tyrant” as Adolf Hitler, told a long and bizarre story about a college professor of his who had murdered a woman in a fit of rage after she called him a “little shrimp” and threatened to expose an affair they had had if he did not return some money she had given him. Rep. Pittman said that Democrats who voted to sustain Gov. Cooper’s veto would be as guilty as that professor. Seems like a stretch, but it’s not surprising given Rep. Pittman’s history of untrue and inflammatory statements.

In a moment that might have left some observers feeling as if they’d been transported via time warp back to the 1950s, Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) told the men in the chamber—because female representatives clearly do not exist—that it was their duty to override the veto because they were “protectors” and had been “reared to protect women and children [their] whole lives.”

“This is the Final Day of Judgment for North Carolina,” said Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Pitt), who, despite being a physician and noting that babies born after miscarriages are not resuscitated and are instead given time with their families, failed to apply his critical thinking skills and extend that scenario to babies born after failed abortions.

This bill was clearly not designed to have any real impact on the way children are cared for after they are born. Laws already punish doctors who are criminally negligent toward their patients, regardless of the patient’s circumstances. What the Governor’s veto ultimately prevented was the codification of anti-abortion language that implicitly criminalizes the practice. Referring to children as “victims of abortion” or “abortion survivors” paints abortion as a violent crime from which one needs saving, and lawmakers like Sen. Krawiec clearly hoped that this framing of abortion would dissuade women from having one.

When U.S. District Judge William Osteen, Jr. overturned North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban in March, he mentioned the “chilling effect” doctrine, which is most often discussed in reference to the First Amendment right to free speech.

“Where a law reasonably dissuades individuals from engaging in constitutionally-protected speech for fear of criminal punishment,” Judge Osteen wrote in his opinion, “this chilling effect itself may form the basis for legal challenge… In the same way, a statute that reasonably deters individuals from a constitutionally-protected sphere of individual freedoms, including the right to choose to have an abortion prior to viability, is susceptible to challenge due to such deterrence.”

Senate Bill 359 was clearly written with this chilling effect in mind, and was likely meant to be the first step to reinstating a full or partial ban on abortion.

The prayer at the beginning of yesterday’s session included this sentiment: “We are accountable first to Thee and then to the people.”

Thank God that 53 of our state representatives disagreed.

Aditi Kharod is a student at UNC Chapel Hill and an intern at NC Policy Watch.

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