Will Pro-Life Lawmakers Support A New Bill To Prevent Infant Deaths?

CREDIT: AP Photo, J. Scott Applewhite

Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012.

Pro-life Republicans spend a lot of time talking about their mission to save babies’ lives. So will they line up to support a new piece of legislation that’s designed to prevent infant deaths?

It doesn’t seem like it.

Introduced by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) on Friday, the “Reducing Unexpected Deaths in Infants and Children Act” aims to better understand unexpected deaths in infants, specifically by funding research programs and standardizing investigation protocol across state lines. This area of study has been underfunded for years, but a steady rate of unexplained infant deaths across the country — especially among Black and Hispanic infants — has pushed Moore to pull the topic out of the shadows.

“Infant mortality rates are similar to that of a third-world country for black women in America,” said Moore, who’s seen this clearly reflected in her Milwaukee district, where a black infant is three times more likely to die before its first birthday than a white baby. “What I’ve noticed is that states are all collecting data in very different, unorganized ways. So we have no way to measure these deaths on a national scale.”

Moore said this is an issue both sides “should be able to come together on.” But despite most conservatives’ quick support of anti-abortion legislation to save unborn fetuses — even fighting to give them Constitutional rights — none have expressed interest in a bill looking to save actual babies who’ve survived the “battlefield of the womb.”

What’s their issue? Planned Parenthood has publicly supported the bill. According to Moore’s staffers, many GOP lawmakers refuse to back the bill simply because of its association with the organization.

“This bill will help combat infant mortality by providing resources to improve the health of women before, between, beyond and during pregnancy,” wrote Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, in support of the bill. “Planned Parenthood is dedicated to ensuring access to quality, affordable care for women – essential pieces for preventing infant mortality and building strong, healthy families and communities.”

Based on its 2014 – 2015 annual report, Planned Parenthood conducted 17,419 “prenatal services.” Moore stressed the importance of pairing with the woman’s health organization.

“Planned Parenthood is a main source of prenatal and postnatal care in the country — they could help us identify the causes of these deaths,” she said. “It just makes sense.”

Critics have pointed to the hypocrisy of pro-life lawmakers aggressively fighting for a baby’s life before it leaves the womb, and abandoning it after, in the past. Just one look at last year’s flood of anti-abortion bills — many going nowhere — can illustrate this imbalance.

Moore said she’s hoping to partner with fellow Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) on this bill. However, Duffy has been firmly against Planned Parenthood, and even introduced a bill in September that would allow states to cut state funding of the organization. Duffy’s proposed legislation is similar to a Ohio bill days away from becoming law, which Moore pointed to as an example of how politics can throw a wrench into serious issues.

After passing both the state House and Senate, a bill has reached Governor John Kasich’s desk that could defund the state’s “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” program — a program formed to target the shockingly high infant mortality rate among predominantly black children in Ohio. It has nothing to do with abortion. Kasich is expected to sign the bill into law.

“Given the politics around Planned Parenthood, which has now been vindicated for false crimes in courts of law, Ohio is likely going to dismantle a very important program,” she said. “It’s staggering. Of all things, we should certainly be able to agree about saving infant’s lives.”