GOP members of both the Senate and House of Representatives have called for Congress to investigate and remedy "abusive, unsanitary, and illegal abortion practices." Leaders of two House committees, meanwhile, have written attorneys general and health department officials seeking information on the regulation of abortion clinics in all 50 states.
Both letters refer to Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor who faces four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable children who were killed after delivery and a count of third-degree murder in the death of a mother during an abortion. A jury began deliberating April 30 after hearing testimony during a six-week trial from witnesses who recounted the killings of babies struggling for life outside the womb and the horrible conditions at the clinic.
Since the trial began, evidence of other United States clinics unwilling to aid infants who survive abortion has surfaced in undercover videos by a pro-life organization.
The videos -- and other reports -- have heightened concerns that the practice of killing babies who survive abortions or refusing to provide care for them might be far more widespread than just Gosnell's practice. The Gosnell trial and possibly the reports have prompted the actions by congressional Republicans.
They have a 2002 federal law, the Born-alive Infants Protection Act, as a basis for their calls for investigations and information. That law provides legal protection to fully delivered babies, even if an abortion was intended.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land commended the congressional efforts "to investigate and rectify this scandal."
"The lack of regulation and lack of prosecution of existing regulations on abortion clinics across the country has been scandalous for years," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "I wish that the conditions at Dr. Gosnell's clinic were isolated, but I know better from persistent reports that come to those inside the pro-life movement. Sadly, most states have more stringent regulations on veterinary clinics than they do on abortion clinics."
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee introduced resolutions in their chambers May 6 and 8, respectively, that request Congress and the states to investigate clinic practices and "the interstate referral of women and girls to facilities engaged in dangerous or illegal second- and third-trimester procedures." The resolutions, which are non-binding, also say Congress has a duty to hold hearings on abortions performed at or after the point of viability for unborn children and on government policies about such abortions.
Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the House Judiciary Committee's chairman, wrote attorneys general May 7 to ask for reports on state laws protecting newborns who survive abortions and on prosecutions of alleged violations of such laws, as well as on prosecutions in the deaths of women undergoing abortions. Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee, joined Goodlatte on the letter.
In a May 8 letter, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and five other panel leaders requested information from state health officials on the licensing, inspection and monitoring of abortion clinics.
Both letters from committee leaders cited what a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report described as a "regulatory collapse" by Pennsylvania and city agencies in monitoring Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic, which opened in 1979. The state Department of Health provided only intermittent reviews until 1993. It totally halted inspections of abortion clinics for "political reasons" that year and failed to perform any more before a raid of Gosnell's clinic in 2010 that led to charges, according to the grand jury.
In their letter, Goodlatte and Franks told the attorneys general they want to know if the federal government "might partner with states to help prevent similar atrocities."
"We are seeking to find out if state and local governments are being stymied in their efforts to protect the civil rights of newborns and their mothers by legal or financial obstacles that are within the federal government's power to address," they said.
The pro-life organization Live Action, which has become famous in recent years for its undercover investigations of Planned Parenthood and other abortion centers, has released since April 28 four hidden-camera videos that show clinic personnel providing guidance on late-term abortion attempts.
Lila Rose, Live Action's president, called for congressional hearings, saying Gosnell "is clearly not alone."
Live Action's investigation shows "these gruesome practices seem to be standard operating procedure" in many abortion clinics, she said in a written statement.
With his Senate resolution, Lee sought approval by unanimous consent, but Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D.-Conn., filed an objection, which blocked the legislation. On May 8, Blumenthal offered a resolution that would serve the purpose of supplanting Lee's. The Democrat's resolution condemned all "incidents of abusive, unsanitary, or illegal health care practices."
Lee objected to Blumenthal's resolution, saying he had not been able to read it.
"I am heartened and I think all Americans should be heartened and the entire pro-life movement should be heartened by the clear implication in this proposal that health regulations should be equitably applied and enforced on abortion clinics as they are on other healthcare facilities," Lee said, according to The Daily Caller.
In the Gosnell trial, the four babies involved in first-degree murder charges were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at his clinic, according to the grand jury report. After delivery, Gosnell -- or another staff member -- would jab scissors into the back of a baby's neck and cut the spinal cord, witnesses and the grand jury reported. Gosnell called the killing of these children "snipping."
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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