Bench Memos

The Facts of Partial-Birth Abortion

This Washington Post story on the federal partial-birth case that the Supreme Court has decided to review contains this odd passage:

The procedure, performed by fewer than two dozen physicians in the country and known medically as “intact dilation and evacuation,” takes place relatively late in pregnancy, generally after the 20th week, when the fetus’s head may become lodged in the birth canal. Under those circumstances, the doctors draw the fetus out feet first, then puncture the skull to vacuum out the brain and collapse the head, permitting the rest of the fetus to be removed.

A reader might gather from this passage that partial-birth abortion is done only in the unusual circumstance that an unborn child in her mother’s womb somehow ends up having her head “lodged in the birth canal.” But what the Post’s description obscures is that the abortionist, as part of the abortion procedure, deliberately dilates the mother’s cervix in order to move the baby’s body (all but her head) from the womb into the birth canal. The baby’s skull is then punctured, vacuumed out, and collapsed so that her head can pass easily through the birth canal.

The abortionist in fact has to be careful to dilate enough to just get the shoulders out, while causing the head to lodge. If he miscalculates and dilates too much, the dreaded “complication” of a live birth can result.

The Post article also states that pro-abortion groups say that the “annual number” of partial-birth abortions is “in the hundreds”. In fact, as Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life has documented, “[f]igures from abortion-industry groups have ranged from 2,200 for the year 2000 (from The Alan Guttmacher Institute [AGI], which is affiliated with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America [PPFA], a major abortion provider) to 3,000-5,000 (in 1997, by Ron Fitzsimmons, the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers).”

My intention is not to single the Post out for criticism. If past experience is any guide, distortions like these will be rampant in the media.


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