Senator Lankford Advocates for Life, Religious Freedom on Senate Floor
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today lead a colloquy on the Senate floor along with Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) to advocate for pro-life legislation and the pro-life grassroots community a day before the 45th annual March for Life. Lankford serves as the co-chairman of the Values Action Team (VAT) and has long advocated to protect life and to protect religious freedom. Lankford will attend tomorrow’s March for Life, and later today he will speak at Evangelicals for Life Conference, one of the largest pro-life gatherings in America.
Last year, Lankford introduced the Conscience Protection Act to protect healthcare providers, including healthcare professionals, entities, and health insurance plans from government discrimination if they decline to perform an abortion. Lankford earlier today joined the official announcement at HHS, along with Acting Secretary Eric D. Hargan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), and OCR Director Roger Severino. Lankford has also sponsored or co-sponsored the Pain Capable Unborn Protection Act, the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, and the Congressional Review Act that reversed President Obama’s Health and Human Services Title X regulation to force states to fund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
Mr. President, I want to get a chance to address an ongoing conversation that’s going on in Washington, DC, right now and will be over the next 36 hours. As unusual as this may sound with all the drama that’s happening here, just outside this building there are tens of thousands of people, most of the students, that are gathering in Washington, DC, preparing for something called the March for life. This has happened for decades now. For students and adults that come from all over the country to be able to come to Washington, DC, to quietly speak for those who cannot speak for themselves—children still in the womb, to be able to speak out for the protection of life. It is an interesting conversation that has a tremendous amount of science and a tremendous amount of faith and a tremendous amount of heat around it.
As some individuals don’t want to discuss the issue of abortion or would simply say that it’s a woman’s choice, need to set that aside and ignore it. There are a whole group of students that are rising up and saying, wait a minute that child in the womb has ten fingers and ten toes, unique DNA that’s different from the mom and dad, the child feels pain in the womb and has a beating heart. That doesn’t sound like tissue to me. That sounds like a child. They’re raising great issues that quite frankly science reinforces as well. Last week, I had the opportunity to be able to stop by one of the great research facilities in Oklahoma. They’re doing tremendous research on cancer, on MS, on Alzheimer’s, and a lot more. I stopped by one of the labs and talked to one of the scientists there. They’re actually doing research on zebrafish. As odd as this may sound, they’re taking zebrafish eggs, developing those eggs as their first beginning to hatch out of the eggs they’re injecting them with a gene that they know to be cancerous in humans, allowing that to develop in the zebrafish, seeing the abnormalities there. Then treating it with different drugs to see if they can reverse the abnormalities. They’re taking zebrafish, creating problems, and seeing if they can fix them. And they’re going into great detail: the microscopes, the work, the millions of dollars that have gone into this research all for one simple thing. The ability to be able to cure diseases that affect human life.
We have, as a culture, determined that life is valuable. Human life especially is valuable and precious. The challenge that we have is determining when that life begins. Myself and millions of others believe life begins at conception. When that child has different DNA then the mom or the dad, that tissue is not just the mom’s tissue at that point, it’s growing independently. There’s no difference in that child in the womb and the child that’s in the backyard playing and laughing and going down the slide other than time. There’s no difference.
Last year the Cleveland Cavalier’s guard JR Harrison and his wife had little Dakota. And when I say little Dakota, I mean little Dakota. She was born at less than a pound at 19 weeks of development. She left the hospital five months later at 7 pounds, 4 ounces. 7 pounds, 5 ounces actually. When she left the hospital, it was a remarkable event. It was celebrated all over social media for this guard for the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers and this beautiful child leaving. Dakota is now a year old. It’s been interesting the stir that happened around her birth. A lot of people stopped and thought about a child that small and that young. It was interesting the CNN articles that came out at the same time as little Dakota’s birth noted that a child at 23 weeks of development has a 50 to 60 percent of survival now. Science has changed a lot over the last several decades. A lot’s happening.
It is remarkable to hear the stories of surgery that’s happening in utero. In 1995, Roberto Rodriguez went through surgery still in the womb. He had major problems in his left lung and at 20-weeks they went in and did surgery in utero fixing his left lung, allowed him to finish out. 13 weeks later he was delivered healthy. Little Roberto Rodriguez is now 22 years old. This technology is not new anymore. In many ways, the science has far surpassed what our conversation is here in America dealing with policy around children. The Supreme Court back in the 1970’s when they passed Roe v. Wade had this whole conversation about viability and that government has the right to be able to step in and protect children at the moment that they’re viable. In the 1970’s that was very different than what it is now.
Now we see children at 20, 21, 22-weeks of development and being born and being natural, healthy, great children. We need to be able to catch up in law. We may disagree on a lot of things on life. As I’ve already stated, I believe life begins at conception. But in this body, I know there is a lot of conversation to say how do we actually get to a sense of commonality and common ground on these issues. Let me lay down three different areas that I would say that maybe we can find some common ground on these three areas. We may disagree on when life begins, can we at least agree that Americans have a freedom of conscience? Can we at least agree on late-term abortions when a child is clearly viable? And can we at least agree when a child is born alive, they should be protected? Let me hit those three quickly.
The first one is basic freedom of conscience. Allowing an individual to be able to live out their conscience. I spoke to several nurses a few months ago. Those nurses, when they were hired at the hospitals they worked in told the individuals in HR and the physicians they work with, they believe that life begins at conception and they had a moral and conscious belief that they wanted to protect children. And they were told at the moment: you will not have to participate in abortions. We understand your conscious belief. We’ll protect your conscious belief. And for years they did not. And then suddenly they ran short in nurses at one moment and they pulled each of them in at different times in different hospitals in different states. They told stories of being pulled into a procedure being told on the way in we need you in this procedure arriving only to find out it was an abortion they were being forced to assist with. They were appalled to be a part of the death of a child. Rather than protecting the life of a child. But each of them was told, you will lose your job if you don’t participate in the taking of this child’s life.
That’s an unfair place to be able to put them in. Individuals should be able to have the freedom of conscience and to be able to live out their moral and spiritual beliefs. I would never go to an abortion doctor and force him to peacefully protest against his own abortion clinic. That would be absurd. But for some reason, pro-abortion hospitals see no issue at times compelling a staff member to participate in something they find objectionable, even when they’ve made their stance clear. We should never force a person to administer a lethal injection in a prison if they have a moral objection to the death penalty. That seems only reasonable. We’re rightfully furious when a man threatens a woman with firing if she doesn’t respond to his advances. No one would say if she doesn’t like his advances, she can just go find another job. But for some in our culture, they want to look away when that same man threatens a woman with firing if she doesn’t violate her conscience and help perform an abortion. They’re willing to tell her, just quit and go find another job. What’s the difference? We wouldn’t compel a vegan to eat meat at a company barbecue, would we? Why would we compel a person to assist in the taking of a life when they’re personally offended by the practice? The right of conscience should be protected for every person. Religious intolerance is a personal choice, not a legal requirement in America.
Late-term abortions are another area I think we should find common ground on and should be able to protect these children. We should agree that elective late-term abortions should be ended in America. This is an elective abortion after five months of pregnancy when the child’s nervous system is fully developed, they can feel pain at that point. We in America, because of the pro-abortion lobby and the activists around, have lost track of this simple fact. We are one of seven nations in the world that allow elective abortions after 22-weeks of gestation. In fact, of those seven nations that allow abortions after 22 weeks of gestation, three of those: Canada, Singapore, and the Netherlands allow elective abortions only until 24 weeks, just two weeks later. But there are only four countries in the world that allow elective abortions at any moment. You ready for this club? Four nations that are like us. The United States, Vietnam, North Korea, and China. That’s it. Those four nations allow elective abortions at any stage like we do. That is a horrible club for the United States of America to be in. They are some of the worst human rights violators in the world, and that’s the elite club that we find ourselves in. The pro-abortion lobby is so powerful and is so wealthy and they’re so engaged they’re not willing to even relent that even one child’s life could be protected, even when they’re clearly viable. Leaving the United States in this horrible collection with Vietnam, North Korea, and China on abortion policy. At five months old, a child in the womb can kick, stretch, yawn, smile, suck its thumb, and feel pain. It’s a viable child. Late-term abortions represent only 1.3 percent of all abortions in America. I would contend we should stop this practice altogether. 191 nations already do, that they don’t allow this, 191 nations. There’s no reason we should not as well.
It’s interesting, The Washington Post heard several people quote that statistic about seven nations are the only nations that actually allow any abortions this late in the stage. Those four that I mentioned, the Netherlands, Canada and Singapore allow up to 24 weeks but not after that. They ran their famous fact checker on this issue. The Washington Post ran through all of it, looked at it saying this sounds like this is not correct, except they ran through the whole study, looked at it, fact-checked the whole thing and at the end of it came back and said no, it actually is correct. What seemed a dubious statement, in the beginning, they fact-checked and gave what The Washington Post calls their elite “Geppetto” qualification. That means no Pinocchio, true statements. We should be able to resolve this. I’ve made no secret that I believe life begins at conception, but I would say to this group not everyone agrees with me on this but we should at least be able to protect life when it’s viable.
Let me add one more detail to this that’s painful to even discuss. Of those late-term abortions that occur, there’s 1.3 percent of those abortions that occur during this late time period. The child is too large and too well developed to actually have a traditional abortion procedure. So the abortions are done by the abortion doctor reaching in with a tool into the womb and literally pulling the child’s arms and legs off allowing the child to bleed to death in the womb and then pulling its parts out a piece at a time. Why do we allow that in America? 191 other nations do not. All of Europe does not. When is the last time you heard me say our social policy needs to catch up with Europe? We’re better than this.
Last statement. I have some colleagues that want to be able to join me in this conversation as well. We should be able to agree on a simple principle, that if an abortion is conducted and yet it’s botched and instead of destroying the child in the womb, the abortion doctor actually induces the delivery. In those rare cases the current practice is, when the child is delivered, everyone in the operating room backs away and allows the child to die of exposure on the table. Because they can’t actually take the life anymore. It’s been fully delivered. Kermit Gosnell sits in prison right now because as an abortionist in Philadelphia he was of the practice of delivering children and killing them after delivered. So it’s a crime already to be able to physically take the life of that individual. So, the current practice is if they mess up the abortion and deliver instead of destroying, they just allow the child to die on its own crying on the table.
Can we as Congress and as Americans at least agree that it is barbaric to watch a crying child on the table slowly die? That at least at that moment of delivery we would agree a child is a child when we can see all ten of their fingers, see all ten of their toes, and hear their voice crying on the table. This is an issue that shouldn’t be controversial. This is an issue that we should find great compassion. And I would challenge this body when we deal with conscience and we deal with late-term abortions and we deal with children that are born alive, that we find resolution in those areas. I’m aware this is a difficult topic. I understand for many people in this conversation it’s painful to even consider it. And for the millions of women who have experienced abortion in their personal life, that this is painful to even consider. But I’m also aware that until we talk about these hard issues and resolve them it will continue to advance. We’re better than this as a nation. Let’s prove it in the way that we treat our most vulnerable. With that, Mr. President, I would ask for a time of colloquy time with some of my colleagues and would like to be able to recognize Senator Blunt from Missouri.