Politics & Policy

Partial Truths

The media mistell partial-birth-abortion stories.

On NBC’s West Wing Wednesday night, a staffer in a fictional White House worried that Republicans passing a ban on partial-birth abortion would ruin women’s lives. It’s part of a RADICAL RIGHT-WING AGENDA! If only such noxious propaganda were confined to television drama.

In real life, Congress is poised to (at last) hand the president a ban on partial-birth abortion. This time (a version of the prohibition has gone to the White House twice before), the president won’t veto it (Clinton did twice). Whether it ultimately passes judicial muster is another story. (If you read National Review (on Dead Tree), Ramesh Ponnuru has you well versed in the ways of judicial hubris.)

As a House-Senate conference committee prepared to send a final bill to the two houses for an up-or-down vote (Conference said farewell to it on Tuesday; House passed it Thursday at 1 P.M.; Senate pending), the propaganda thinly veiled as news stories began again. Most jarring and most prominent was a Gannett News Service story by Pamela Brogan (a reporter who is a repeat offender) that appeared on Sunday.

Audrey Eisen, the story tells us, was a caring mother (okay, they didn’t actually use that word, “mother”). It begins, “After suffering through infertility and miscarriages, Audrey Eisen got pregnant again last year only to learn that her fetus had a chromosomal defect and would die before birth or live only a few weeks in severe pain.”

Eisen “made what she called ‘a deeply moral personal decision’ and got an abortion in her 16th week.”

The news story continues, “That option might not be available to other women facing the same dilemma under legislation Congress is expected to pass this year.”

Sorry, but that’s just not true.

The article asserts that the current congressional ban on the road to the White House would prohibit Ms. Eisen’s abortion, (which the reporter later admits was a “dilatation and evacuation” abortion); the assertion requires having not read the bill. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 clearly defines partial-birth abortion as an abortion in which:

(A) the person performing the abortion deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and

(B) performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus; and

Forgive the broken-record aspect to this, but it clearly needs to be said again: The partial-birth abortion is a brutal procedure. It’s actually sort of fitting that the pro-choicers have the “so-called partial-birth abortion” macro on their computers, because it is very clearly “infanticide,” as the late Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it. As the bill clearly defines it, partial-birth abortion is when a baby is partially delivered but whose head is punctured before the birth is complete; partial-birth abortions happen in the 20th-26th weeks of pregnancy, not in the sixteenth. That was not Ms. Eisen’s abortion. Eisen had a D&E abortion (illustrated here). Look here for a visual of a partial-birth abortion.

But that’s not all that is wrong with the Gannett piece. It is more pernicious than that. The “news story” revives an old falsehood, often repeated, that, Roe v. Wade only allowed for legal abortion in the first trimester. Would that it were so. Tim Graham wrote a takedown of the first-trimester myth for NRO months ago that should be pasted to the cubicle wall of any reporter ever writing on abortion. As Douglas Johnson from the National Right to Life Committee puts it, “In Roe, and in many subsequent decisions, the Court made it clear that abortion had to be allowed for any reason [whatsoever] through ‘viability.’ ‘Viability’ refers to the baby having lungs sufficiently developed to survive independently of the mother with technological assistance, which is a point currently reached in the late weeks of the second trimester (often by 23 weeks, and usually by 24 weeks–or about five-and-one-half months in layman’s language). The original Roe/Doe ruling left the door open for minor medical-practice regulations to protect women’s health in the second trimester, but it was clear from the language of the decision that these regulations could not amount to much, and they never did.” (And if you don’t believe us, check the Washington Post, New York Times, and AP for their concessions.) In Casey, in fact, the Court made it clear that there are no distinctions in Roe: “We reject the trimester framework, which we do not consider to be part of the essential holding of Roe.”

And one final note on the Gannett story: Regrettably, one more justice on the Supreme Court will not mean not Armageddon for legal abortion in the U.S. The Gannett reporter writes, “A Bush appointment to the Supreme Court could provide a majority that would vote to overturn the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.”

But how about Justice Kennedy? He voted to affirm Roe in Casey in 1992. Kennedy made clear in the Stenberg decision that he’s with Roe, just not partial-birth abortion. So the Court is 6 to 3 pro-Roe at the moment.

NARAL has plenty of time to stock up on their wire hangers, in other words (especially since they have the promise of a stonewall in the Senate, whomever the president sends to replace a retiree to look forward to).

Seventy percent of Americans support a ban on partial-birth abortion. When the facts are not falsified in ways to tug at your heartstrings, people get what this is. There’s no debating over the right to choose. And there’s no serious worry about a radical attempt to ruin women’s lives through this straightforward prohibition on a very specific procedure.

So, truth is, after two attempts, partial-birth-abortion-infanticide-may get a federal red light in the next few days or weeks. You’ll likely hear that future Audrey Eisens’ lives will be ruined. You likely will hear that this particular ban, long in the gestation stage, is a right-wing plot to rollback Roe. But what it will be is the first national restriction on abortion since Roe v. Wade; terribly limited, but a baby step for humanity.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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