Thursday, April 19, 2007

The larger meaning of partial birth abortion

I want to blog a bit more about the Supreme Court's decision in Carhart, but, first, a bit of the politics. It is a repeated canard among those who favor unlimited abortion rights that pro-life folks somehow dehumanize women. I can't say that no one in the movement has ever done that, but this fails as a generalization. Despite repeated references to the abortio license as a "women's issue," public opinion polls repeatedly show no material difference in the propensity of men and women to be pro-life. The most effective thing, moreover, that the pro-life movement has ever done is the "think about it" campaign sponsored by the Veritas Foundation. The whole premise of the campaign is to appeal to the natural impulse of women to protect their children and to seek to empower them to make that choice.

The second most effective thing it has ever done is the campaign against partial birth abortion. The abortion lobby insists it is a misnomer and a canard. But the reason that the issue has had legs is that it is anything but a misnomer. The term "partial birth abortion" is a deadly accurate description of the procedure's reality and that reality is ugly.

Of course, abortionists can proceed quite efficiently (and, with a bit extra work, quite safely for the mother) without using this procedure. But the debate over partial birth abortion has humanized the unborn child in a way that may never be undone. The pro-abortion movement has claimed there is no significant difference between 1) extracting most of a child from the womb and sticking a scissors in his or head, and 2) "disarticulating" a child in the womb.



Anonymous said...

Ok, you believe, as an article of faith, that life beginsat conception, i.e., that a fetus is "a child." While I certainly think you are entitled to whatever religious or ethical beliefs you come to, who cares?

And, of course, you simply pick up the tactic of those who think certain religious beliefs should be given the force of law. Describe the procedure in the most emotional and disgusting way possible. This is maipulation, not argument.

The bottom line is that, with the current state of medical science, there are some rare instances in which the now illegal procedure is indicated for protecting the life of the woman involved. Congress has declared that a certain religious belief is more important than the safety and health of the mother.

Yeah, that's dehumanizing in a very concrete sense.

Rick Esenberg said...

The congressional statute allows this procedure if it is necessary to save the life of the mother.

I think the description is quite matter of fact. I admit that I did not use samitized medical terminology, but if you watched one of these performed, that is exactly waht you would see.

As far as the law reflecting my (or anyone else's) moral values that may be grounded in religious faith, we do that all the time.

Remember the court's decision does not mean that partial birth abortion must be illegal. Only that our elected representatives may pass a law that bans it - at least as a general proposition.

The laws we pass are often influenced by our moral views. Why did we outlaw reacial discrimination and segreagation. Because they are wrong. Why are they wrong? For many people (indeed for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King) they are wrong because all people are created in the image of God and entitled to equal dignity and respect. I'll let that influence my beliefs on what the law ought to be all day.

Anonymous said...

I also really don't wanna watch a liver transplant.

To say that laws are commonly grounded in morality is one thing, to have the government take sides in a hotly fought religious dispute is quite another.

And, anticipating the standard argument, laws against theft, violence, discrimination, didn't pop into being as a result of abstract moralism - they were found to be necessary to preserving a stable society. Indeed, as a matter of historical reality, racist laws began to change and discrimination laws began to emerge not when good moral arguments were advanced - but only after it became clear that these steps were necessary to preserve stability in our society.

Congress determined (and the Supreme Court permitted it, reversing their own precedents) that the sensibilities of one side in a religious debate outweighed the safety of women in a specific medical circumstances. Its that simple. Its talibanism.

And, where are all my small government brothers and sisters? Government regulation is an abomination when it deals with environmental controls or land use or taxation but not when it leaps into the doctor-patient relationship?

Anonymous said...

"Government regulation is an abomination when it deals with environmental controls or land use or taxation but not when it leaps into the doctor-patient relationship?"

The problem is you're missing an indisputable point: (especially with late term abortions) it's a doctor-patient-patient relationship. A baby is not a liver. It's a genetically-distinct human being.

And I'm not religious at all, but according respect to life at conception makes much more functional sense than pretending that a fetus only becomes human after it crosses some arbitrary threshold of numbers of cells.

Anonymous said...

"A baby is not a liver. It's a genetically-distinct human being."

"Indisputable point." Aristotle and jillions of others disagree.

You make my point. The assertion that a fetus is a "human being" is and has been for thousands of years hotly disputed. You can say that you are not religious, but your view of this is a religious or ethical or "whatever you want to call it" view that is not shared by many many people for religious or other reasons.

The notion that a young woman who is raped brings shame on her family and should die is seen as completely obvious and uncontroverisal to the taliban too.

Shack said...

"'Indisputable point.' Aristotle and jillions of others disagree."

And boy, did "Aristotle and jillions of others" do a great job of proving why all those gosh dern modern genetics an' biologies mumbo jumbo don' matter one whit!

Sarcasm aside, the point remains: by any reasonable measure of modern science, the fetus (which, by the way, is simply a stage of development--no different than embryo, infant, pubescent, etc.) is a living human organism, distinct from his/her mother, with his/her own complete and unique DNA code.

You may as well face it, anon--the only one here seeking to force his/her private religious views on the law is YOU.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me how we take something so simple and try to make it so complex.

There is no life without conception.

The only issue here is do we protect life or not. You don't have to be religious to answer that question.

Anonymous said...


Rick is describing precisely what happens during a partial birth abortion.Scissors are stuck into a partially delivered baby's head and its brains are suctioned out thus ending its life. The truth can be such a bitch, can't it?
The pro-choice movement attempts to sanitize the whole issue of abortion with the verbage it uses. "Women's health"...please. The majority of abortions are performed because it is a bad time for the woman or couple to have a inconvenience. Abortions needing to be performed for cases of rape and incest exist, but are rare. Your example of a woman being raped and then facing death unless she has a partial birth abortion would not happen. There is no medical situation that can only be remedied by performing a partial birth abortion. There are OB-GYN MDs who have come out and supported this(not to mention the AMA).
In addition, many pro-choicers find comfort behind the disproved belief that "the fetus" feels no pain. Research has proven otherwise. A number of years ago while working in a level 2 nursery, I was given the task of caring for a baby born at 22 weeks. She lived about 1 hour; believe me, this perfectly formed baby girl did suffer.
So lets stop the word games. Yesterdays decision raised such an uproar because the pro-choice movement is afraid that it will chip away at their so called right to abortion on demand. Too bad such a right never existed in the constitution anyways.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I want very much for the decision to be between the individual woman, her doctor, and her god, if she has one. period. if she believes that a fetus is a human being, I believe she is deeply entitled to act on that belief. And, vice versa.

And, while it ends the conversation, the declaration that its "obvious" or "scientific" or indisputable" cements my point. There are declarations of faith, religious or otherwise. And, the one thing that is undisputable is that there is serious disagreement about when "human" life begins.

As I said slightly differently, the Taliban think certain things are so "indisputable" that suggesting there exists a debate is itself offensive. That's exactly how this conversation unfolded.

The only response has amounted to: "my religious or ethical beliefs should be imposed on others by the government even though I know lots of folks disagree with them."

PaulNoonan said...

shack, I would argue that human life cannot begin before there is brain activity. While this is currently difficult to detect, it will not always be the case.

Would you argue that human life begins before brain activity? How would you know?

Distinct DNA has nothing to do with being human. By any reasonable measure of modern science, if it doesn't have brain activity, it's not human.

Anonymous said...

This will cost some mothers' lives or ability to have successful pregnancies the next time. There are cases in states with this ban that involve women carrying dead infants, cases in which this is the safest procedure. That's what doctors say, and I trust them over a non-physician's say-so.

And in some of those cases, the delays in availability (court orders, etc.) of this procedure or resort to other procedures have cost women the prospect of carrying to term the next time, not to mention other effects on their health.

This procedure is so rarely used -- 2200 times in the most recent year tallied -- that it clearly means to anti-abortionists much more than that number of cases could mean. To anti-abortionists, it clearly is a first step toward further curtailing reproductive rights.

And at the cost of mothers' health in even only half of the cases per year, that's a thousand women who may have to delay pregnancy again, perhaps forever. That's what can happen in saying no in cases of the health of the mother -- not a mother's death but an inability to grow a life again. So that's just hypocrisy for "pro-lifers."

Jimi5150 said...

Who cares? That's part of the problem. Why is regard for life soley a religious issue?

Some information:

The rate at which PBA's have already been performed is higher than most people know to be true. This was one of the sticky points of the original ban . . . that it's rarely done. In fact, in one year procedures as low as 2000 and as high as 5000 were performed. It was difficult to be accurate for obvious reasons. Of those done, the majority were performed on healthy women with a healthy fetus.

While the health of the mother is often cited as a reason to perform the procedure, mortality from the procedure itself is as high. As reported in a number of JAMA articles.

While there aren't comprehensive polls of medical professionals, those that have been done show a support for the ban. Particularly by obgyn's and RN's.

Public polls, while split on abortions in general, show a strong support of the PBA ban. Particularly where there is no evidence of risk.

Lastly, the current provision protects the mother in the cases it's needed.

I'm against abortion as a form of birth control . . . particularly PBA's. Between all the people who would give anything to have a baby, and the fact that we live, supposedly, in a civilized society, this procedure is barbaric and in many cases, unecessary.

The point is that the arguement used by many liberals is disengenuous. You cite reasons that aren't true and quickly jump to "religion as law" when the matter of life is discussed. You care about the "life" of someone sentenced to death for deserved reasons but somehow don't extend the cortesy of life's chance to a fetus.

Having said all of that, I don't believe it's the role of government to make these decisions for us. This is something that should be left to the doctor and patient, and whatever role ethics would play. As a parent it's up to ME to educate my daughter, raise her with morals, and guide her through difficult times. And should the time come to make difficult decisions, I don't want politics to play into it.

Anonymous said...

Abortion is rarely used as a "form of birth control." That's a myth.

For one thing, you really need to understand that abortion often is a resort when birth control was used -- as no form of birth control is always reliable. Some are very unreliable. And even the most reliable form of birth control is 99 percent reliable.

So if you and your partner use the pill and have done it 99 times, stop now or start saving for a bigger place.

As for your stats on the partial-birth procedure, in the most recent year for which there are stats, it accounted for 0.0016 percent of all cases -- a few thousand, as you say. And many of those cases involved dead fetuses, which can be so dangerous to the mother that the delays, with the great reduction in availability of the procedure already, often is the cause of death or complications.

In the case of a dead fetus, removal -- promptly -- by the p-b procedure often is most recommended for the health of the mother to be able to carry to term ever again.

You want to save a dead baby to prevent a pregancy that could result in a live baby? You applaud further delays, with this court decision, that could further preclude a successful pregnancy the next time or even raise the death rate of the mothers -- often mothers of other children already?


Anonymous said...

And, Jim a serious problem is that your entire perspective proceeds from the premise that a fetus is a human life.

Rick Esenberg said...

As for the use of something like this to remove a dead fetus from the womb, the statute at issue here would not prohibit it. It bans only the use of the procedure in a way that therby kills a human fetus.

Jimi5150 said...

I don't know how to make this more clear . . . the current ban includes provisions for the health of the mother. That's a non issue.

Second, as reported by various sources in medical journals, PBA's are by themselves a risk to the health of the mother. Current risk percentages are the same as those that go to full delivery.

OK. Let's take morality, religion, and ethics completely out of it. What's the difference, biologically speaking, between a fetus in the third trimester and you or I?

Again, I'm not for the ban . . . from a legislative stand point. I think if left to it's own devices the medical field would largely sort this out . . . and has.

But this insistance of trying to define life, when it begins, who has the right . . . it's dehumanizing. And while you might be quick to play the "religion" card . . . maybe it's just about civility . . . respect . . . being more highly developed than the rest of the animal world. People go to jail for what they do to cats and dogs. Is a fetus at least not on the same level?

Anonymous said...

Jim, you are plain wrong. The statute reads:

A defendant accused of an offense under this section may seek a hearing before the State Medical
Board on whether the physician’s conduct was necessary
to save the life of the mother whose life was endangered
by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy

There is no exception for the health of a woman, only one if she'll die. You are simply wroong and now corrected I assume you will acknowledge your wrongheadedness about this. After all you wrote:

"the current ban includes provisions for the health of the mother. That's a non issue."

Wrong, false, next?

Dad29 said...


EVERYBODY knows that we're dealing with a human being--the mother, the abortionist, the RN's.

To claim otherwise is to live in Fantasyland, anony.

What's at issue is the liceity of dismembering a human being. Which is why many folks prefer the Gummint to play God.

Jimi5150 said...

As it pertains to this one specific procedure, you are correct. I apologize. I wasn't clear. The ban is an outright ban on the one procedure. No exceptions. But, one, it doesn't ban other methods available to the doctor to implement. And, two, you miss the point of one of the issues with regard to the ban . . . it's unecessary. It has been found, by the CDC, that the risks associated with the procedure itself is as high as allow the pregnancy to go full term.

From the AMA:

"According to the scientific literature, there does not appear to be any identified situation in which intact D&X is the only appropriate procedure to induce abortion, and ethical concerns have been raised about intact D&X. The AMA recommends that the procedure not be used unless alternative procedures pose materially greater risk to the woman."

"In recognition of the constitutional principles regarding the right to an abortion articulated by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and in keeping with the science and values of medicine, the AMA recommends that abortions not be performed in the third trimester except in cases of serious fetal anomalies incompatible with life. Although third-trimester abortions can be performed to preserve the life or health of the mother, they are, in fact, generally not necessary for those purposes."

From JAMA:

"There exist no credible studies on intact D&X that evaluate or attest to its safety. The procedure is not recognized in medical textbooks nor is it taught in medical schools or in obstetrics and gynecology residencies. Intact D&X poses serious medical risks to the mother. Patients who undergo an intact D&X are at risk for the potential complications associated with any surgical midtrimester termination, including hemorrhage, infection, and uterine perforation."

"None of these risks are medically necessary because other procedures are available to physicians who deem it necessary to perform an abortion late in pregnancy. As ACOG policy states clearly, intact D&X is never the only procedure available."

"Most clinicians would argue for maintaining the option of late pregnancy termination to save the life of the mother, which is an extraordinarily rare circumstance. Maternal health factors demanding pregnancy termination in the periviable period can almost always be accommodated without sacrificing the fetus and without compromising maternal well-being. The high probability of fetal intact survival beyond the periviable period argues for ending the pregnancy through appropriate delivery. In a similar fashion, the following discussion does not apply to fetuses with anomalies incompatible with prolonged survival. When pregnancy termination is performed for these indications, it should be performed in as humane a fashion as possible. Therefore, intact D&X should not be performed even in these circumstances"

So we have a case where the majority of medical professionals deem the procedure as unecessary. Rightly so, however, they argue that the final decision should still be up to them and their patients.

Ideally, I want government out of this issue. As do I want them out of other issues pertaining to our health like smoking and trans fat bans. But, I'm glad this procedure is gone. Not because of any religious belief (I have none), not because of any constitutional right, not because of any definition of life and when it begins . . . because the medical experts have told us its barbaric and unecessary.

Anonymous said...

Actually, most relevant medical experts believe that the procedure is occasionally indicated. And, no medical expert of which I am aware renders professional opinions about what is "barbaric."

Jimi5150 said...

Well, I don't know how it gets more convincing than from the association itself. But, if you choose to ignore what appears to be "consensus" among medical professionals . . . then as it pertains to your opinions on the subject, and to quote, who cares?

Anonymous said...

Jim - read the court's decision again; it discusses at length the competing opinions on the topic. The notion of a consensus on this is false.

Anonymous said...

And read closely what you sent, what the AMA wrote:

"The AMA recommends that the procedure not be used unless alternative procedures pose materially greater risk to the woman."

That is exactly what the high court has just taken from physicians -- the doctor's determination of risk, the doctor's recommendation of options, and the doctor's decision made with the patient.

So I think it's time that the high court, not doctors, also ought to decide how to do vasectomies. Too bad if your doctors think that alternative procedures have higher risks for you guys. Whadda they know, after years of medical school? Nah, put that scalpel in the caring hands of a lawyer. . . .

Jimi5150 said...

Which is apparently extrememly rare, as they also say the procedure isn't necessary, and that other options exist. Again, I don't support the ban, but present the issue based on relevant fact. Not parts of it or on some thought that, like global warming, the worst will come of it. I agree, I don't want legislators and judges making medical decisions for me and my family. But, at least as far as this procedure goes, good riddance. We'll see just how many women die now as opposed to prior. Maybe a few of those otherwise healthy babies will be allowed in to the world.

Anonymous said...

I find it disturbing that nearly all arguments are of a faith or philosophical nature. The only way this issue can be addressed in a non-objective way is through biological and chemical properties.

A fetus(regardless of the species) is classified as a living organism independant of the mother as required by all the characteristics of life which are, Homeostasis, organization, metabolism, growth, adaptation, response to stimuli, and reproduction. A fetus meets all of these. Even bacteria display all of these traits. NOTE this definition of life is seen as outdated a more modern definition is needed due to the nature of virus', prion's and other 'replicators' Keep in mind any change in our understanding of life will only reduce the requirements.

The gestation period and rate of cell reproduction is a non-issue, as every species has varying durations of each, indeed gestation periods are non-existent in many species. The amount of time needed for humans is so long due to the complexity of neural connections in comparison other organisms. Indeed humans are born relatively immature due to the size of the head in comparison to the birth canal.

Now that the fetus has been identified as an independant organism the question is what classifies an organism as human, since it is impossible to argue for or against the exsistance of a 'soul' The only way to differentiate between species is by its DNA, a fetus therefore meets THE ONLY definition of a human being.

Medical complications that endanger the life of the mother would be the only example where science fails to provide clarity. My personal opinion would be that due to the cannibalistic nature of all life an abortion in these circumstances would be perfectly acceptable. However, I do have a problem with the fact that it is often falsely implied that no procedures exist for such complications outside of an abortion. Also abortions of this nature are extremely rare and the majority of abortions are simply out of convenience.

I am also currently pondering the implications of abortions on fetus' with disorders. I see it as UNnatural-selection, however it is clear these individuals have nothing to contribute towards the gene pool. I suppose it depends on the condition as well as the severity of the disorder though I have no idea how accurately this can be determined in-utero.

Whoops forgot rape, since it is crucial that females control the genes which are passed to the coming generations, again I would claim abortion is perfectly acceptable in these circumstances. The probability of conception occurring in instances of rape is extremely low due to stress, I suspect a large portion of 'rape pregnancies' are also just excuses for mommy and daddy though I admit this is pure speculation.

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