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The Dartmouth
April 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Partial-Abortion Bill is Humane

Today's vote is the most devastating and appalling attack on a woman's freedom to choose in the history of the House," Kate Michelman, the president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said in a statement. "This bill is so extreme that it provides no exceptions to save a woman's life or health, thus presenting a direct constitutional challenge to Roe v. Wade." This statement was reported in last Friday's edition of the New York Times.

Are Michelman's words true, accurate and objective? Highly emotional and irrational non-arguments are usually associated with the popular image of pro-lifers rather than with progressives such as Kate Michelman. Does Michelman really believe those words which she released in her statement? What is this "devastating and appalling attack" which she is referring to?

The House of Representatives voted last week to ban a particular abortion procedure, known as a partial-birth or intact dilation and evacuation method of abortion. In our society, where abortion is legal during all nine months of pregnancy, where a woman's "right to choose" has received sacrosanct status, how can such a ban be possible?

The partial-birth procedure is used very rarely, only after 20 weeks of gestation, and there are few doctors in the country who are willing to perform it. There is no medical reason which dictates that this procedure must be used, rather than a different procedure. Even with the ban on partial-birth abortions, a pregnant woman can still receive a late-term abortion.

Viewed as a human rights issue, this ban is a great success and deserves support from all, pro-lifers and others. The partial-birth procedure, if described accurately and objectively, is nothing short of chilling. The abortionist extracts the pre-born feet first using forceps until all of its body, with the exception of the head, has been delivered into the birth canal. The doctor then inserts scissors into the fetus' skull to make an opening for a suction catheter so that the collapsed skull can be delivered.

This is no shapeless blob of tissue we are dealing with here. There is a skull; there is a brain; there are feet; there are hands; there are facial features, etc. As a matter of fact, all that separates this baby from its constitutionally protected right to life is a mere three or four inches, since the rest of the body has already been delivered. If Michelman is so concerned about a "devastating and appalling attack," she need look no further. Abortion rights is not the issue here; common decency is.

The second part of Michelman's statement, that there is no clause for the life of the mother, is a blatant lie. The provision for the life of the mother which the bill does contain stipulates that the doctor must have a medically defensible reason for using the partial-birth procedure and the agreement of a colleague on the necessity of the particular method. The provision being supported by Michelman would have allowed the doctor to easily justify use of this horrible and inhumane procedure in almost any case, effectively gutting the ban.

Support for abortion rights has significantly eroded in the new Congress, and this ban, while it is a valuable end in itself, is a starting point for many in a long battle against legal abortion. In this sense, Michelman has a very real reason to fear. However, the vote to ban partial-birth abortions, taken by itself, should not be understood as a victory for either side of the very tense debate over the legal right to abortion.

Rather, it is a victory for all who recognize that there is no reason why we should have to partially deliver a child only to collapse its skull and discard it. That this procedure is even performed is alarming evidence that we as a society are foisting false "solutions" on women in need of help. We must work to help women with crisis pregnancies and present viable options rather than providing the partial-birth procedure as a last-minute "solution" to the very real, very urgent problem of an unwanted pregnancy.