Protecting Babies Who Survive Abortions Is the First Step

Regarding Marjorie Dannenfelser’s “The Political Case for Federal Abortion Limits” (op-ed, Oct. 7): Ms. Dannenfelser, my longtime friend, joined me 20 years ago in supporting the most modest first step legislating on abortion, the bill to protect children who survive abortions. The Supreme Court never endorsed a right to kill the born-alive survivor, but neither did it make clear that such a right was beyond the holding in Roe v. Wade. Former President Obama has insisted that it isn’t. The killings took place, as they have to this day.

Twenty years ago, a reluctant, complaining Democratic Party voted for the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. But the situation was transformed when the bill was moved to restore the serious penalties, civil and criminal, that had been stripped from that earlier act. In 2015 and 2018, the Democratic Party voted almost unanimously in the House to oppose the strengthened bill to protect the child born alive. The Susan B. Anthony List made the new bill part of its top legislative priority. It will come back if the Republicans regain control of the House, and surely this must remain the hardest and most embarrassing position for the Democrats to defend.

Surely the most critical political challenge to Democratic candidates would be this: Would you join the Democratic caucus in opposing this bill to protect the child born alive? And if the Democrat argues that the federal government shouldn’t legislate on this matter: Would you pledge, then, not to support the Women’s Health Protection Act, the new summoning measure for the Democrats, a bill that would sweep away the restrictions on abortion in the pro-life states?

Hadley Arkes

Director, James Wilson Institute

This essay was originally published in the Wall Street Journal as a letter to the editor.


Hadley Arkes is the Founder and Director of the James Wilson Institute as well as the Edward Ney Professor Emeritus of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.
Anchoring Truths
Anchoring Truths is a James Wilson Institute project
The James Wilson Institute’s Mission is to restore to a new generation of lawyers, judges, and citizens the understanding of the American Founders about the first principles of our law and the moral grounds of their own rights.
Learn More