"Partial-birth abortion"


Partial-birth abortion

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The Partial-Birth "Choice"
Pro-aborts are pushing a gruesome form of child murder

Late-term abortions are understandably complicated by the advanced development of the pre-born victim, so special techniques have been developed to assist abortionists in plying their grisly trade. The most controversial to surface in recent years has been the "partial-birth abortion," which has also been euphemistically dubbed "dilation and extraction," "intact dilation and evacuation," and "intrauterine cranial decompression."

Only a handful of physicians regularly perform late-term abortions, including Dayton, Ohio abortionist Dr. Martin Haskell, who coined the term "dilation and extraction." On September 13, 1992, he presented a paper at a risk management seminar sponsored by the National Abortion Federation in which he described the partial-birth procedure in graphic detail.

Grisly Details
After locating the baby within the womb, Haskell explained, the "surgeon uses his fingers to deliver the lower extremity [legs], then the torso, then the shoulders, and then the upper extremities." With only the head remaining inside the mother, and the baby oriented "spine up," the "surgeon then takes a pair of blunt, carved Metzenbaum scissors in the right hand. He carefully advances the tip, curved down, along the spine and under his middle finger until he feels it contact at the base of the skull under the tip of his middle finger." He then "forces the scissors into the base of the skull. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening," after which the scissors are removed and the surgeon inserts a "suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents [sucks out the baby's brains]. With the catheter still in place, he applies traction to the fetus, removing it completely from the patient."

During a December 10, 1989 interview with the Dayton News, Haskell indicated that the scissors thrust is usually the lethal act: "When I do the instrumentation on the skull ... it destroys the brain tissue sufficiently so that even if it [the baby] falls out at that point, it's definitely not alive."

It is certainly understandable that a baby would die when scissors are rammed through his skull and into his brain. But how many are alive to that point? During a 1993 tape recorded interview with American Medical News, published by the American Medical Association, Dr. Haskell was asked to "talk first about whether or not the fetus is dead beforehand...." He replied: "No it's not. No, it's really not. A percentage are for various numbers of reasons. Some just because of the stress -- intrauterine stress during, you know, the two days that the cervix is being dilated [it is a three-day process]. Sometimes the membranes rupture and it takes a very small superficial infection to kill a fetus in utero when the membranes are broken. And so in my case, I would think probably about a third of those are definitely ... dead before I actually start to remove the fetus. And probably the other two-thirds are not." Haskell admitted that "you could dilate further" and deliver the baby alive, but "that's not really the point. The point here is you're attempting to do an abortion. And that's the goal of your work, is to complete an abortion. Not to see how do I manipulate the situation so that I get a live birth instead."

Until his death last October, abortionist James McMahon was medical director of the Eve Surgical Centers in Los Angeles. Dr. McMahon is credited with developing the partial-birth abortion technique, preferring that it be called "intact dilation and evacuation." McMahon was quoted in the January 7, 1990 Los Angeles Times Magazine as saying: "Frankly, I don't think I was any good at all until I had done 3,000 or 4,000 [abortions] in later pregnancies." The article noted that in "literature he has circulated seeking abortion referrals, Dr. McMahon strongly advocates the partial-birth method for later abortions, so presumably most of his late abortions are being done using this method."

Abortionist organizations such as Planned Parenthood have claimed that the partial-birth procedure is "done only in cases when the woman's life is in danger or in cases of extreme fetal abnormality." But eminent medical authorities have stated that a partial-birth abortion is never required to save the mother's life. Dr. Pamela Smith, director of medical education in Mt. Sinai Hospital's department of obstetrics and gynecology, told the House Constitution Subcommittee last year that in a situation where a mother's life was in danger "no doctor would employ the partial-birth method of abortion," since it takes three days.

An Elective Procedure
While those who defend partial-birth abortion would have us believe that it is only used in crisis situations, Dr. Haskell told American Medical News that "most of my abortions are elective in that 20-24 week range.... In my particular case, probably 20 percent are for genetic reasons. And the other 80 percent are purely elective."

For his part, Dr. McMahon told American Medical News that he employed "elective" abortions up to 26 weeks, and thereafter performed "non-elective" abortions all the way to 40 weeks (full term). But his definition of "non-elective" was somewhat expansive. Based on data which he supplied to the House Constitution Subcommittee in June 1995, "depression" was the largest single "maternal indication" for supposedly "non-elective" abortions.

In 1993, as a further indication of the extent to which elective partial-birth abortions are being performed, the executive director of the National Abortion Federation distributed an internal memorandum to the organization's membership stating that partial-birth abortions are performed for such reasons as "lack of money or health insurance, social-psychological crises, lack of knowledge about human reproduction, etc."

As we write, legislation to ban partial-birth abortion (H.R. 1833) has been approved by the House and the Senate, though with difference that have yet to be resolved. At the 1994 convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, President Clinton was asked how he stood on U.S. support of family-planning programs in countries that encourage late-term abortions. "At a minimum," he replied, "we should not fund abortions when the child is capable of living outside the mother's womb." Not only are such abortions wrong, he said, but here in the U.S. they could likely be "criminalized" without violating the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that sparked the abortion controversy.

Nonetheless, this year Mr. Clinton promised to veto H.R. 1833 unless it is modified in ways that would render it meaningless. It is unlikely that a veto could be overriden. The House passed its version of H.R. 1833 by a vote of 288 to 139 on November 1st [1995], enough to override a veto. But the Senate tally of 54 to 44 on December 7th fell far short of the two-thirds needed to override.* (See vote #7 in the voting section.)

No Pain?
You will recall Dr. Martin Haskell's admission that a sizable majority of the babies he aborts by the dilation and extraction method are alive prior to insertion of the surgical scissors into their skulls. Nevertheless, some who defend the procedure -- such as syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, the editorial board of USA Today, Planned Parenthood, and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League -- insist that the baby dies from anesthesia given to the mother before the procedure begins. McMahon had made the same claim in a June 23, 1995 letter to House Constitution Subcommittee chairman Charles Canady (R-FL), in which he asserted that the "fetus feels no pain through the entire series of procedures. This is because the mother is given narcotic analgesia [pain killer] at a dose based upon her weight. The narcotic is passed, via the placenta, directly into the fetal bloodstream. Due to the enormous weight difference, a medical coma is induced in the fetus. There is a neurological fetal demise. There is never a live birth."

When Dr. Norig Ellison, president of the 32,000-member American Society of Anesthesiologists, learned about McMahon's letter, he arranged to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to set the record straight. He told the committee: "I believe this statement to be entirely inaccurate. I am deeply concerned, moreover, that the widespread publicity given to Dr. McMahon's testimony may cause pregnant women to delay necessary and perhaps life-saving procedures, totally unrelated to the birthing process, du to misinformation regarding the effect of anesthetics on the fetus."

According to Dr. Ellison, "the fact is that when general anesthesia is administered to the mother, only a portion of that anesthetic reaches the fetus -- the amount varying depending on the type of anesthetic; anesthetics administered regionally do not reach the fetus. As a result, many pregnant women -- currently totally over 50,000 each year in this country -- are safely anesthetized without ill effects to mother or fetus." He acknowledged that it "is certainly true that some general analgesic medications given to the mother will reach the fetus and perhaps provide some pain relief," but he stressed that "it is equally true that pregnant women are routinely heavily sedated during the second or third trimester for the performance of a variety of necessary surgical procedures, with absolutely no adverse effect on the fetus, let alone death or 'brain death.' In my medical judgment, it would be necessary -- in order to achieve 'neurological demise' of the fetus in a 'partial birth' abortion -- to anesthetize the mother to such a degree as to place her own health in serious jeopardy." He told the committee that he had "not spoken with one anesthesiologist who agrees with Dr. McMahon's conclusion, and in my judgment, it is contrary to scientific fact. It simply must not be allowed to stand."

Not only are many pre-born infants alive prior to insertion of the scissors, but they feel pain as well. According to Dr. Paul Ranalli, a neurologist at the University of Toronto, a human fetus at 20 weeks is covered by pain receptors and actually has more nerve cells (around one billion) than most post-adolescent human beings (such cells being dying off after adolescence).

In testimony before the House Constitution Subcommittee, Professor Robert White, director of Neurosurgery and Brain Research Laboratory at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, confirmed that the "fetus within this time of gestation, 20 weeks and beyond, is fully capable of experiencing pain." And regarding the partial-birth method, he lamented: "Without question, all of this is a dreadfully painful experience for any infant subjected to such a surgical procedure."

Eye Witness
Brenda Pratt Shafer, a registered nurse in Ohio, was assigned by her agency to work at Haskell's abortion clinic for three days in 1993. At the time, she was sympathetic to the slogans of the so-called "pro-choice" movement. Indeed, she had four teenage daughters, and had once told them that if any became pregnant she would arrange for them to have abortions.

She changed her mind during those three days at the clinic, which she describes as "the most horrible experience of my life." She states that she stood by Dr. Haskell's side as he performed three partial-birth abortions, including one on a Down's syndrome baby estimated to have been 26 weeks from conception. According to Shafer, there were size partial-birth abortions performed that day in that clinic. She witnessed three. One killed the Down's baby. The other two involved babies with no defects: One mother was 17 years old and unwed; the other was married and, at age 40, apparently did not want a "change-of-life" baby.

Regarding the latter, nurse Shafer stated in a July 9, 1995 letter to her congressman, Representative Tony Hall (D-OH): "The baby's body was moving. His little fingers were clasping together. He was kicking his feet. All the while his little head was still stuck inside. Dr. Haskell took a pair of scissors and inserted them into the back of the baby's head. Then he opened the scissors up. Then he stuck the high-powered suction tube into the hole and sucked the baby's brains out." Then, she said, Haskell delivered the baby's head, severed the umbilical cord, and delivered the placenta.

Writing in the September/October 1995 issue of American Enterprise magazine, journalist Maggie Gallagher added a wrenching footnote to the story: "When it was over, the mother who underwent a partial-birth abortion that day insisted on seeing the results. So Brenda and the other nurses cleaned it up, wrapped it in a blanket, and put the corpse of the little baby in her arms. Face-to-face with what she had done, the woman began crying inconsolably, repeatedly pleading, 'God forgive me.'"

The response of the abortion industry and its cohorts in Congress was predictable: They set out to discredit nurse Shafer. During a July 12, 1995 House Judiciary Committee session, Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) charged, based on a letter she had received from Dr. Haskell, that Shafer had never worked at Haskell's clinic. When pro-life committee members produced a copy of the bill which the nursing agency had sent to the clinic, which included Shafer's license and Social Security numbers, Schroeder backed off, but did not apologize. Haskell's letter also claimed that Shafer could not have witnessed the 26-week abortion, or another that she claimed was at 25 weeks, because he observes a "self-imposed and established limit of 24 weeks." Yet his 1992 paper delivered to the NAF seminar stated that he "performs the procedure on selected patients 25 through 26 weeks."

Flawed Testimony
In an attempt to bolster their position, advocates of partial-birth abortions gathered testimony from a few women who had faced terrible problems and choices during pregnancy. It was implied that their plights would have been untenable without the partial-birth abortion option. Two of the most widely publicized cases involved Californians Viki Wilson and Coreen Costello. Mrs. Wilson, a nurse married to an emergency room physician, ended a wanted pregnancy at 36 weeks because the baby was diagnosed with encephalocele (hernia of the brain) with severe icrocephaly (small head), resulting in a large portion of the brain forming outside the skull. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Because of the size of her [the baby's] anomaly, the doctors feared that my uterus would rupture in the birthing process, most likely rendering me sterile." She pleaded with the committee: "There will be families in the future faced with this tragedy because prenatal testing is not infallible. I urge you, please don't take away the safest procedure available. This issue isn't about choice, it's about medical necessity."

Committee chairman Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) then pointed out that H.R. 1833 allows the use of the partial-birth abortion procedure if a doctor can demonstrate that he "reasonably believed" that the mother's life was in jeopardy and that no other forms of medical intervention would suffice. But Mrs. Wilson, as tragic as her situation was, did not need to undergo an abortion to save her life. Beyond that, she had not undergone a partial-birth abortion, the subject of the hearing. She eventually admitted as such, but claimed that she thought H.R. 1833 was worded in a way which might frighten abortionists from performing any type of late-term abortion.

Coreen Costello's dreadful plight was summarized by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) during the floor debate on December 7th, the day that the Senate approved its version of S. 1833: "Coreen Costello is a pro-life Republican. She learned that the fetus she was carrying had 'a lethal neurological disorder.... Due to swelling, her head was already larger than that of a full-term baby. Natural birth or an induced labor were impossible.' The D and E [dilation and extraction] procedure, she said, 'greatly lowered the risk of my death.... There was no reason to risk leaving my children motherless if there was no hope of saving [my baby].'"

Again, abortion was not necessary to save the life of the mother. (A Caesarian section would not have been impossible.) And again, a partial-birth abortion as defined by H.R. 1833 was not involved. Mrs. Costello's baby -- as she acknowledged in her own testimony -- died inside her womb.

Arms of Love
The Judiciary Committee also heard moving testimony with a different perspective from Jeannie Wallace French, a health care consultant from Chicago. Mrs. French stated that in 1993 she learned that one of the twins she was carrying was suffering from the condition in which the brain develops outside the skull. Doctors recommended that the baby be aborted, but she and her husband rejected that advice. "Paul and I felt in our hearts that our baby girl was a member of our family, regardless of how imperfect she might be," she testified. "We wanted a peaceful life for her, however brief."

The baby (the French's named her Mary) lived for about six hours following her birth by Caesarian section, but during her brief life, in Mrs. French's words, she was "always in the arms of someone who loved her." Following Mary's death, her heart valves were removed and used to save the lives of two other babies. "Some children by nature cannot live," Mrs. French reflected. "If we're to call ourselves a civilized culture, we must at least ensure that the deaths by natural, peaceful, and painless. And if other pre-born children face a life of disability, let us welcome them into this society with arms open in love. Who could possibly need us more?"

Is She a Person?
An important legal question that the Supreme Court has ignored to date is whether an infant that is alive after being pulled 90 percent from the womb is, or is no, a "person" entitled to legal protection. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Courts ruled that the word "person" as used in the 14th Amendment does not include the unborn. But the High Court has never ruled on the constitutional status of babies in the process of being born. The Roe decision did, however, specifically note (and did not challenge) a Texas statute that made killing a child during the birth process a felony. That statute provided that "Whoever shall during parturition [the birth process] of the mother destroy the vitality of life in a child in a state of being born and before actual birth, which child would otherwise have been born alive, shall be confined in the penitentiary for life or for not less than five years." As the House Judiciary Committee report on H.R. 1833 pointed out, there "is not substantive difference between a child in the process of being born and that same child when he or she is born. The only distinguishing characteristic is locale. Clearly, the child is as much a 'person' when in the process of being born as that child is when the process is complete."

The difference, then, between a partial-birth abortion and a homicide is a matter of mere inches and seconds. As Senator Robert Smith (R-NH) noted during floor debate on November 8th [1995], "But for three more seconds and three more inches, that child is under the full protection of the Constitution of the United States." Three seconds and three inches from becoming a legal "person" as defined by every state in the union. []

* Unfortunately, H.R. 1833 is itself seriously flawed. By focusing on a single reprehensible abortion procedure, it appears to condone others that are as deadly to the unborn and as morally repugnant. But beyond that, based on the principle of federalism, the role of the federal government should be confined to guaranteeing all innocent life based on the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, leaving to the states the actual enactment of the necessary statutes to safeguard human life.

by Robert W. Lee