Clearing a Few Misconceptions

by Adil Ahmad | 11/11/03 6:00am

To the editor:

Although I reserve my personal opinion on the issue of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, I would like to bring to the attention of the readers the following points:

First, the beginning clause of the Act reads: "a partial-birth abortion -- an abortion in which a physician delivers an unborn child's body until only the head remains inside the womb, punctures the back of the child's skull with a sharp instrument, and sucks the child's brains out before completing delivery of the dead infant"

Second, Partial-Birth Abortion is, in scientific terms, known as "Intrauterine Cranial Decompression" or more commonly the "Dilation and Extraction (D&X)" procedure. The Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary defines "partial-birth abortion" as "an abortion in the second or third trimester of pregnancy in which the death of the fetus is induced after it has passed partway through the birth canal." It is, therefore, an existing practice, unlike what certain authors have claimed recently in the pages of The Dartmouth.

Third, over two dozen states have enacted similar acts banning this procedure, which include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, Virginia and others. Several of these have been declared unconstitutional, directly or indirectly, by the U.S. Supreme Court, most prominent being the Nebraska law. In the 2000 decision, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion: "All those who perform abortion procedures using that [similar] method must fear prosecution, conviction and imprisonment. The result is an undue burden upon a woman's right to make an abortion decision. We must consequently find the statute unconstitutional." The Nebraska law also failed to provide any exception "for the preservation of the health of the mother."

And, finally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued the following statements about the procedure: "ACOG continues to object to legislators taking any action that would supersede the medical judgment of a trained physician, in consultation with a patient, as to what is the safest and most appropriate medical procedure for that particular patient." It also, however, states that " a select panel convened by ACOG could identify no circumstances under which intact D&X would be the only option to protect the life or health of a woman."