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From the President's Desk...

Bush Administration's Stand on
Partial-Birth Abortion

This week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, an Ohio ban on a single late-term abortion procedure referred to in the medical literature as intact dilation and extraction (D&X) or in the common vernacular partial-birth abortion was questioned.  The Justice Department filed a “friend of the court” brief, a nonbinding opinion, in support of Ohio’s ban on this procedure.  Both Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Bush Administration should be lauded for the pro-life stance against this heinous method to terminate an unborn child’s life.  Late-term abortions involve leaving only the head inside the uterus after the rest of the baby’s body has been delivered followed by the back of the baby’s skull being punctured with scissors and the child’s brain is removed by suction.

Tragically, the Supreme Court had earlier ruled in Nebraska (Stenberg v. Carhart) that this late-term abortion ban commonly called partial-birth abortion was unconstitutional.  There were two reasons for the 5-4 decision on June 28, 2000:  first, it did not include an exception to protect the health of the woman, and second, the language defining the procedure was too broad and could have extended to another method of abortion beyond partial-birth abortion.  Since it did not comply with the 2000 Supreme Court decision, the Ohio ban was stuck down by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  However, the Ohio partial-birth abortion ban “satisfies both these requirements” by limiting the ban only to partial-birth abortions and providing, “exactly the health exception required by the Supreme Court” according to arguments in the Justice brief.

Pro-choice advocates, lower courts, and the Supreme Court are all wrong when they believe that an intact D&X is the safest abortion procedure with regards to protecting the mother’s health.  For an intact D&X that evaluates or attests to its safety, there exist no credible studies.  In medical textbooks the procedure is not recognized; nor is it taught in medical schools or in obstetrics and gynecology residencies.  In fact, a risk for potential complications associated with any surgical mid-trimester termination that include uterine perforation, infection and hemorrhage is always present for patients who undergo an intact D&X. 

These patients however are placed at an increased risk of two additional potential complications by intact D&X.  The first complication is the increased risk of uterine rupture.  An internal podalic version is an integral part of the D&X procedure.  The physician instrumentally reaches into the uterus, grasps the fetus’ feet, and pulls the feet down into the cervix, thus converting the lie to a footling breech during the procedure.  Risk of  abruption, amniotic fluid embolus, rupture and trauma to the uterus is carried by the internal version.  “There are very few, if any, indications for internal podalic version other than for delivery of a second twin,” indicates Williams Obstetrics.

The risk of iatrogenic laceration and secondary hemorrhage is the second potential complication of intact D&X.  Scissors are forced into the base of the fetal skull while it is lodged in the birth canal following internal version and partial breech extraction.  Maternal injury from laceration of the uterus or cervix by the scissors is risked by this blind procedure and could result in severe bleeding and the threat of shock or even maternal death.  Quantification has not been adequately done for these risks.

Since other procedures are available to physicians who deem it necessary to perform an abortion late in pregnancy, none of these risks are medically necessary.  Intact D&X is never the only procedure available.  When hydrocephalus is present, some clinicians have considered intact D&X necessary.  A hydrocephalic fetus, however, could be aborted by first draining through ultra-sound-guided cephalocentesis, the excess fluid from the fetal skull. 

Partial-birth abortion is “potentially dangerous” for women cautions Dr. Warren Hern, former head of the Center for Disease Control’s Abortion Surveillance Unit and recognized expert in abortion practice.

Another leading expert to indicate that the procedure is never medically necessary to protect a mother’s life or her future fertility has been former Surgeon General C. Evertt Koop.  He has said that on the contrary this procedure can pose a significant threat to both.

Former Congressman Tom Coburn (Republican-Oklahoma) is a practicing physician who has delivered over 3,500 babies.  During debate of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2000 (House of Representatives-April 5, 2000) he indicated that “partial-birth abortion is done only for the abortionist, not for the woman.  He said, “They would terminate the pregnancy in a very much different way.  They would not put at risk her reproductive future.  They would not put her at risk of pulmonary embolism from amniotic fluid; they would not put at risk the ability for her cervix to maintain its muscular strength by dilating it against its will. 

“Partial-birth abortion in this country is not being done for the health of the women.  It is being done for the convenience of the abortion.  That is number one.  Number two, it is not being done because children have lethal defects.  It is being done so that late-term abortions can be accomplished.  That is why it is being done.  Number three, this procedure puts the health of a women at much greater risk than any of three other procedures that could be used to terminate her pregnancy.”

Later in the floor debate Representative Coburn indicated that the vast majority, upwards of 90 percent of all partial-birth abortions are on absolutely normal, not abnormal, babies.  He said, “To couch partial-birth abortion on the basis of one or two percent of those issues, and that is what you are really talking about, one or two percent, not the vast majority, to justify it as a means to terminate the life of a well, healthy child is unconscionable.”

Additionally the congressman said that in this nation, death is defined as the absence of a heartbeat and the absence of brain waves.  He said, “All 50 states, every territory, upheld by the Supreme Court."  The representative added, “If that is death, let me tell my colleagues what the opposite is: present heartbeat, present brain waves.  That is life.  I say to my colleagues, at 41 days past the last menstrual period every fetus has a heartbeat and brain waves.”

The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade had asked when life begins but decided it could not answer what it called “that difficult question.”   A human heartbeat is detectable 24 days after conception, and brain waves are detectable within 41 days.  Thus, from this standpoint a baby in the womb deserves Fourteenth Amendment protection.  Furthermore, Constitutional  protection is afforded the unborn child because in the Preamble of the Constitution it indicates that this document is to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity which means succeeding or future generations.

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