On Partial-Birth Abortion

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 10/28/03 6:00am

Congress's passage of a ban on partial-birth abortions last week is a victory to all who oppose the controversial procedure that former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop '37 asserted to be "never medically necessary to protect a mother's health."

In fact, the procedure has been demonstrated to pose serious risks to a woman's well-being and ability to successfully carry subsequent pregnancies to term, while a lawsuit brought against a Nebraska law banning the procedure failed to cite a single instance in which use of the procedure had demonstrably preserved a woman's health.

Additionally, the abortion of partially-delivered fetus perverts the proper role of physicians, whose primary duty is to protect human life however and whenever possible.

The bill itself states that the ban applies to a "living fetus" whose entire head or trunk "past the navel" is delivered, a condition which emphasizes the fact that the fetus to be aborted is only moments removed from gaining the full protection afforded any person under the Constitution. In such a circumstance, the distinction between what constitutes a fetus or legally entitled person rests on a mere technicality.

Critics of the ban have contended that it will erode women's constitutional right to abortions as upheld by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The broad bipartisan support that the ban received in both the House and Senate, however, as well as the law's narrowly tailored language should be reassuring to those who fear that it will lead down a "slippery slope" toward increasingly restrictive anti-abortion legislation.

Whether one holds a pro-life or pro-choice position, the partial-birth abortion ban can be seen as a victory over a procedure that is medically unnecessary. The right of American women to have abortions has been enshrined in law and protected by the courts; however, the new legislation will outlaw what is rightfully seen as an excessively broad interpretation of a women's right to choose.

Though the ban will likely end up facing legal challenges -- the Supreme Court struck down a similar state law as recently as 2000 -- the specificity of the law and the range of evidence it has in its support may allow it to survive. The law's affirmation of the value of human life is something on which those on both sides of the abortion debate ought to be able to find common ground.