MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The fight over a Republican-backed bill in Wisconsin that would force doctors to care for babies that are born alive during an abortion attempt is heating up with President Donald Trump weighing in, even though there is no evidence of such a birth happening in the state.
Backers of the proposal that could send doctors to prison for life say even one baby killed following a failed abortion would be too many. But opponents, including abortion rights advocates and doctors, say it almost never happens and in the rare instances when it does, existing laws already make killing the babies a crime.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded 143 instances nationwide in which live births were caused by an attempted abortion between 2003 and 2014.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services doesn’t track such births because Wisconsin bans non-emergency abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and any baby born before then would be too young to survive outside of the womb, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Miller said.
The agency does report that in 2017, the latest year for which data is available, 1% of abortions were performed after 20 weeks. Miller explained it was difficult to determine the fetus’ age in those instances. The data did not indicate if any of them survived the abortion attempt.
The bill’s sponsor, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, tweeted Monday that the only reason there is no data on babies being born alive due to a failed abortion attempt is because the state doesn’t collect it.
“The idea that it doesn’t happen/hasn’t happened in WI is absolutely ridiculous,” Steineke tweeted.
Despite the rarity, Republicans around the country have been pushing for laws that would require doctors to care for babies in such situations in an attempt to energize their conservative base. North Carolina’s governor vetoed one of those bills last week and Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a similar measure in February, leading Trump to say “they don’t mind executing babies.”
Under the Wisconsin proposal , health care providers who are present for such births must care for the child as if it were a normal birth and transport the child to a hospital. Failure to do so would be a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. Intentionally killing such a child would carry a life sentence.
Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s newly elected Democratic governor, has vowed to veto the bill. Trump attacked Evers over the measure during a rally in Green Bay on Saturday.
“Your Democratic governor shockingly stated he will veto legislation that would protect Wisconsin babies,” Trump said. “The baby’s born. The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully and then the doctor and the mother determine whether they will execute the baby.”
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes tweeted in response Saturday that Trump’s remarks amount to “the kind of dangerous rhetoric that encourages the violence carried out today.”
In response, Steineke asked Barnes why Evers won’t sign the bill if the born-alive scenario is such a non-issue.
“Why fight additional protection for the babies that survive?” Steineke tweeted.
Asked during a phone interview why the bill is needed in Wisconsin given the state’s abortion ban after 20 weeks and that babies typically can’t be survive on their own before that point, Steineke said some children may be able to survive if they’re born a few days earlier. He added that medical advances may one day enable children to survive outside the womb before 20 weeks.
“We have no way of knowing in the future how early we’ll be able to save these kids,” he said.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 establishing a national right to abortion, states were allowed to restrict abortions after viability, the point when the fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving outside the womb. The ruling doesn’t define viability, saying it could range between 24 and 28 weeks.