Let’s go point by point.
As mentioned, the bill itself, which is brief, does not directly address women’s access to abortion, but instead what happens after an abortion.
Abortions do sometimes fail. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from 2003 to 2014, at least 143 infant deaths involved “induced termination.” Only 97 of these infant deaths could be determined to have “involved a maternal complication or congenital anomalies.”
Twenty-six states have laws on the books that specifically mandate care for infants born alive after an abortion—therefore, such laws are not unheard of or easily derided as a mere political tactic—but 24 states do not. The 2002 act extended legal protections to infants born alive after an abortion, but did not include criminal penalties for doctors or impose specific requirements for medical care, as Sasse’s bill does.
Finally, it is not disparaging to everyone who works in a field (in this case, medicine) to suggest that more oversight is necessary, or even to propose punishment for lawbreakers. Democrats today are calling for additional regulation of a range of industries and fields, including law enforcement, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, the health-insurance industry, and, yes, medical care and decision-making. We know evil people exist, and some of them are doctors like Kermit Gosnell, who was sentenced by a Pennsylvania grand jury in 2016 after he was found to have committed precisely the act the Sasse bill is meant to penalize and prevent.
By focusing on abortion rights, Democrats ended up arguing a lot about what was not explicitly in the bill, while neglecting to make clear to the American people that they do, in fact, oppose infanticide and believe babies born alive after a botched abortion deserve medical care consistent with similarly situated babies who are born under any other circumstance. Not one Democrat uttered the phrase born alive during the floor debate. Not one Democrat referred to the 2002 act or expressed support for it during the floor debate. If Democrats truly believe the bill is a disingenuous attempt in a long game to end access to abortion, they could at least have been clear while voting against it that they endorse its sponsors’ stated intent. They could have also proposed, or tried to propose, amendments to the legislation, as the writer Charles Camosy has suggested. Senator Tim Kaine released a statement that did affirm the 2002 bill, but that was an exception to the rule. I would imagine that someone like Senator Claire McCaskill might have had a similar approach, but in part because abortion politics caused an internal fight among Missouri Democrats months before Election Day, she is now a former senator.
After decades of earnest attempts to find some common ground on this most tender and personal issue—think of Senators Ted Kennedy and Sam Brownback’s work on a Down Syndrome registry, bipartisan support for the Hyde Amendment, and President Obama’s first-term appeal for efforts to reduce the number of women seeking abortions—that impulse has been virtually eradicated among elected officials. Our politicians spend so much time with people who agree with them, using talking points cleared by or provided by entrenched advocacy groups and pursuing electoral strategies more reliant on base turnout than persuasion, that it has become difficult to tell if they have simply forgotten how to speak with people who hold a different viewpoint or if they simply do not care. So many of these controversies would be avoided if politicians were more familiar with different perspectives on abortion, and the arguments and sensitivities that undergird them.