Addressing Partial-Birth Abortions

pdf version

For some, accepting the reality of partial-birth abortion is difficult. Does this gruesome abortion procedure actually exist? If it does, it must have only been used to save the life of a mother, right? Unfortunately, partial-birth abortion is real. Abortion doctors perform the abortion on healthy women who do not want to be pregnant. The end result is the brutal death of a partially-born child.

Indifference has set in because the issue has been clouded. Some proponents of abortion stated that the issue of banning partial-birth abortions is more about ending abortion rights. Other abortion advocates stated there is no such thing as a "partial-birth abortion" and that such a term has no medical meaning.

This fact sheet produced by Right to Life of Michigan addresses partial-birth abortions. It contains information about the attempts to ban partial-birth abortion, description of the abortion procedure, information about the number and reasons behind partial-birth abortions, the opinions of experts in fetal medicine and the American Medical Association, and web sites where additional research information on partial-birth abortion may be obtained.

Attempts to ban partial-birth abortion
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 was passed by Congress with large bi-partisan majorities and signed into law by President George W. Bush in November of 2003. After court challenges, this legislation was eventually ruled constitutional in a 5-4 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court in April of 2007. This ban became law after numerous previous attempts to make this procedure illegal. Below is a brief history of legislative attempts to ban partial-birth abortion.

As knowledge of this procedure increased across the country during the early 1990s, prolife legislators began to push for a ban on partial-birth abortion. On November 1, 1995, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 288 to 139 to pass the ban on partial-birth abortion. On December 7, 1995, the U.S. Senate voted 54 to 44 to ban this procedure. President Bill Clinton vetoed this bill on April 10, 1996.

After President Clinton was re-elected, prolife legislators continued to work to ban this procedure. On March 20, 1997, the House voted 295 to 136 to pass a bill that was similar to the one from 1995 with slight language changes. On May 20, 1997, the U.S. Senate voted 64 to 36 for the ban. Unfortunately, the Senate was three votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority to override the veto that was promised by President Clinton.

President Clinton said that he would have signed this bill if it had made exceptions for women who had serious health problems. Exceptions for "serious health problems" would not prevent partial-birth abortions from being performed because of a definition in a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In the case Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme Court defined health (in the context of abortion) as "all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient." This means that abortion doctors can pick from an endless list of health reasons to abort a child, even during the last trimester of pregnancy.

On June 28, 2000, in the case of Stenberg v. Carhart, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned a Nebraska law that banned partial-birth abortions. Because the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the Nebraska ban to be unconstitutional, state and federal lawmakers were challenged to write legislation which was different, but would still prohibit partial-birth abortions.

In response to the Carhart ruling, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 which provides a more exact definition of partial-birth abortion and contains Congressional findings that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to save the health of the mother.

Description of the procedure
In a 1992 seminar for the National Abortion Federation, Dr. Martin Haskell described his new method of abortion called D&X (dilation and extraction). Haskell thought that his new method was an improvement over D&E (dilation and evacuation), where a child is dismembered inside the womb and removed piece by piece.

Haskell invented this new procedure to give himself and other abortionists an alternative method of completing second-trimester abortions. Haskell also says that this method can be used in the third-trimester. All of the quotes in the following paragraphs are directly from a hand-out provided at the National Abortion Federation seminar in D&X or partial-birth abortion is a three day procedure. During the first two days, the pregnant woman's cervix is anaesthetized and dilated. On the day of the operation, the abortionist uses an ultrasound to find the "approximate location of the lower extremities." The abortionist then inserts "a large grasping forceps" into the uterus. "When the instrument appears on the sonogram screen, the surgeon is able to open and close its jaws to firmly and reliably grasp a lower extremity." The abortionist then pulls the lower extremity into the vagina. "With a lower extremity in the vagina, the surgeon uses his fingers to deliver the opposite lower extremity, then the torso, the shoulders, and the upper extremities." At this point the child's entire body is outside of his mother except for his head.

The abortionist then finds the base of the skull and "forces the scissors into the base of the skull. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening. The surgeon removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents."

What are medical experts saying about
partial-birth abortion?
The Physicians' Ad-hoc Coalition for Truth (PHACT) is a group of experts in fetal and maternal medicine whose purpose is to "bring the medical facts to bear on the public policy debate over partial-birth abortion." PHACT states that "there is no medical basis" for the assertion that "partial-birth abortion can be medically necessary to protect the health of a woman carrying a child diagnosed with severe congenital or genetic disabilities, and to also protect that woman's future fertility and ability to carry other children."

PHACT also points out that the "partial-birth abortion procedure itself can pose both an immediate and significant risk to a woman's health and future fertility. To forcibly dilate a woman's cervix over the course of several days risks creating an 'incompetent cervix,' a leading cause of future premature deliveries."

AMA opinion
In a letter to U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum concerning a bill to ban partial-birth abortions, P. John Seward, the executive vice-president of the American Medical Association, wrote, "Thank you for the opportunity to work with you towards restricting a procedure [partial-birth abortion] we all agree is not good medicine."

Why are partial-birth abortions performed?
No one is certain how many partial-birth abortions took place each year. Some sources claim that there may have been only 500 to 1,000 a year [1]. In 1996, The Sunday Record (September 15) reported that New Jersey abortion providers stated that they provided at least 1,500 partial-birth abortions in their state alone per year. In 1997, Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, estimated that the method was used 3,000 to 5,000 times annually. One should also note that the purpose of Dr. Haskell's seminar goal was to spread the use of his technique.

In terms of reasons for having a partial-birth abortion, Dr. Haskell is quoted by the American Medical News as saying, "In my particular case, probably 20 percent are for genetic reasons. The other 80 percent are purely elective." During 2009, there were at least 223 abortions performed in Michigan after the 20th week of pregnancy. Michigan was recently ranked last in the country by the National Abortion Rights Action League for offering women access to abortions, however, second and third trimester abortions are performed in Michigan.

A February 1, 2001, Detroit Free Press article reported that abortionist Dr. Jose Higuera might be criminally prosecuted in Michigan for performing an abortion after the 28th week of pregnancy. The prosecution of Dr. Higuera stemmed from an abortion performed in 1996 with no "health" or "life" reason for the mother. The woman, whose identity was not disclosed in the Free Press article, stated she did not know she was so far along in her pregnancy.

While many people do not realize that an abortion can be legally performed throughout all nine months of pregnancy, the truth is abortions can be performed for any "health" reason at any time.

Issue of anesthetics
Many pro-choice individuals against the ban on partial-birth abortion claimed that the anesthetic given to the mother before the procedure killed the child before she was partially delivered. Planned Parenthood handed out sheets to Congress which stated, "The fetus dies of an overdose of anesthesia given to the mother intravenously . . . This induces brain death in a fetus in a matter of minutes."

When the president of American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), Dr. Norig Ellison, heard this, he testified, "There is absolutely no basis in scientific fact for that statement . . . I think the suggestion that the anesthesia given to the mother, be it regional or general, is going to cause brain death of the fetus is without basis of fact [2]."

Dr. Martin Haskell has even said that about a third of the children die from intrauterine stress and ruptured membranes due to the dilation (nothing to do with the anesthetic) but the other two-thirds weren't dead before he started removing the fetus [3].

Michigan Legislation and Partial-Birth Abortion
The Michigan Senate passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (S.B. 776) by a 24-13 vote on January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the two U.S. Supreme Court decisions which legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. The bill passed the Michigan House by a vote of 74-32 on May 27, 2008, only to be vetoed by Governor Jennifer Granholm on June 13, 2008, because it lacked a so called “health” exception.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cameron Brown, would have made it a felony to perform a partial-birth abortion, unless the mother’s life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness or physical injury. Sen. Brown said that banning the barbaric procedure, which involves partially delivering the baby and then stabbing the baby’s head and suctioning out the brains, is something the vast majority of people can agree on.

"While there may be a point of division on the abortion issue, few people differ on the egregious nature of partial-birth abortions, a practice not worthy of a civilized society," Brown said.

The most recent attempts to ban the procedure came as a response to the Legal Birth Definition Act being ruled unconstitutional by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on June 4, 2007. This ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in January to reject an appeal. Michigan’s Legal Birth Definition Act became a reality only after a record-setting petition campaign allowed lawmakers to override a veto by Governor Jennifer Granholm. The Legal Birth Definition Act, which would have effectively banned partial-birth abortion, defined birth to be at the point where any portion of a child is vaginally delivered outside the mother’s body.

The Michigan Partial-Birth Abortion Ban mirrors the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. That law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart on April 18, 2007.

“This time we’re using federal language banning partial-birth abortions that has already passed judicial muster,” Brown said.

Opponents of the bill argued that since there is a federal ban, no additional laws are needed. Brown disagrees, pointing out that the state has many laws that duplicate federal laws, and the state ban is needed to commit Michigan resources to prosecute violators.

"Michigan should enact this legislation in order to provide enforcement by our attorney general and county prosecutors," he said. "The federal law is only enforced by federal attorneys who may be focused on other issues."

Click here for the status of legislative efforts in Michigan to ban partial-birth abortion.

1 - New York Times, March 28, 1996 2 Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing record J-104-54, Nov. 17, 1995, p. 153 3 American Medical News, Vol. 38 (43), November 20, 1995

2 - Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing record J-104-54, Nov. 17, 1995, p. 153
3 - American Medical News, Vol. 38 (43), November 20, 1995

Produced by: Right to Life of Michigan, PO Box 901, Grand Rapids, MI 49509,








© RIGHT TO LIFE OF MICHIGAN, 2340 PORTER ST SW, PO BOX 901, GRAND RAPIDS, MI 49509-0901, (616) 532-2300