The Corner

Misleading Names, Misleading Polls

William Saletan argues that the phrase “partial-birth abortion” is false and misleading. He writes, “If you haven’t been following the debate closely, it’s easy to walk away with the impression that the ‘delivery’ is a nearly full-term birth.” But many “partial-birth abortions,” he observes, occur earlier in pregnancy, when the fetus would not be likely to survive outside the mother. This is not “the appointed hour of birth.” And the fetus is just that: not a baby, not an “infant” (as the president says), not a “child. . . who would otherwise be born alive” (Sen. Santorum).

Fine: It’s a fetus, not an infant or a teenager. But the entity in question is alive. In a partial-birth abortion, it is partially delivered. It is partially removed from the womb. It is, in other words, partially born. Senator Santorum’s remark may not be true, but that is only because the alternative to a partial-birth abortion would often be another kind of abortion. The fact that the entity, if delivered, would be unlikely to survive long does not mean that it was not born. (Babies born at the “appointed hour” for a birth, rather than an abortion, sometimes die soon afterward, without anyone’s denying they had been born.)

Supporters of the ban on partial-birth abortion should not say or imply that they are talking exclusively about late-term abortions. Senator Frist did that in a quote that Saletan identifies. But the media’s favored alternative to the phrase “partial-birth abortion”–a “rare kind of late-term abortion procedure”–is much more misleading.

Saletan concludes by noting a poll that showed 70 percent of Americans backing a ban. “I’d like to know how many of the people who answered that question understood exactly what they were being asked about,” he writes. I’d like to know the same thing about the people who say they’re “for” Roe v. Wade. (We can exclude Gregg Easterbrook, if he was polled.)

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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