What is a Partial-Birth Abortion?

Author: CRNET

What is a Partial-Birth Abortion?

* The definition of partial-birth abortion in H.R. 1833 is "an abortion in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery." A number of physicians were involved in the drafting of this language to ensure that it is medically accurate and does not encompass any other form of abortion or legitimate medical procedure.

* Registered nurse Brenda Pratt Shafer witnessed several partial-birth abortions while working for an Ohio abortionist. She described one of these abortions in a July 9, 1995, letter to Congressman Tony Hall:

The baby's body was moving. His little fingers were clasping together. He was kicking his feet. All the while his little head was still stuck inside. Dr. Haskell took a pair of scissors and inserted them into the back of the baby's head. Then he opened the scissors up. Then he stuck the high-powered suction tube into the hole and sucked the baby's brains out.

How Many Partial-Birth Abortions Are Performed?

* There is no way to know the exact number of partial-birth abortions that are performed yearly. The National Abortion Federation says that two doctors, McMahon and Haskell, perform about 450 between them each year. Both of these abortionists energetically advocate the method. Dr. Haskell presented a "how to" paper to National Abortion Federation members in 1992, and Dr. McMahon is the director of abortion training at a major teaching hospital.

* The National Abortion Federation also admits that the partial-birth abortion method is probably used at times by other practitioners, and the American Medical News reported in 1993 that "a handful of other doctors" employed the method.

* Defenders of partial-birth abortion often stress that they are "a small percentage" of all abortions. But for each individual human being who ends up at the pointed end of the surgical scissors, the procedure is a 100 percent proposition.

What Are the Circumstances?

. * Partial-birth abortion is not a legitimate medical procedure and is not needed for any particular circumstances. While the American Medical Association has officially taken no position on H.R. 1833, the AMA's Council on Legislation--made up of 12 doctors-- voted unanimously to recommend that the AMA Board of Trustees endorse H.R. 1833. A member of the Council said they "felt this was not a recognized medical technique," and that the council members agreed that the "procedure is basically repulsive." (Congress Daily. Oct. 10, 1995) What Are the Circumstances? (Continued)

* Dr. Martin Haskell stated: "And I'll be quite frank: most of my abortions are elective in that 20-24 week range... in my particular case, probably 20% are for genetic reasons. And the other 80% are purely elective...." (1993 Interview with AM News)

* Dr. McMahon uses the partial-birth abortion method through the entire 40 weeks of pregnancy. He claims that most of the abortions he performs are "nonelective," but his definition of "non-elective" includes reasons such as the mother's youth or depression.

* Dr. McMahon sent the Constitution Subcommittee a graph showing that, even at 26 weeks of gestation, half the babies that Dr. McMahon aborted were perfectly healthy, and many of the babies he described as "flawed" had conditions that were compatible with long life, either with or without a disability. For example, Dr. McMahon listed nine partial-birth abortions performed because the baby had a cleft lip.

* H.R. 1833 does have a provision to allow the use of a partial-birth abortion if it is needed to save a mother's life. But eminent medical authorities have stated that this procedure would never be used in such a situation. At the subcommittee hearing ~n partial-birth abortion, Dr. Pamela Smith, OBGYN, said that in a situation where a mother's life was in danger, "no doctor would employ the partial-birth method of abortion, which--as Dr. Haskell carefully describes--takes three days!.

* The National Abortion Federation sent out a June 18, 1993, letter to its members regarding the partial-birth abortion method (then called dilation and extraction). The letter counseled, "Don't apologize: this is a loyal abortion procedure." The letter also stated, "There are many reasons why women have late abortions: life endangerment, fetal indications, lack of money or health insurance, social-psychological crises, lack of knowledge about human reproduction, etc."

What Does H.R. 1833 Do?

* H.R. 1833 bans the performance of partial-bird] abortions by making it a crime, subject to fines and/or a maximum of two years imprisonment, to perform a partial- birth abortion.

* Additionally, the bill creates a civil cause of action for damages against an abortionist who performs the procedure. The action can be maintained by the father or, if the mother is under 18, the maternal grandparents.

* H.R. 1833 establishes an affirmative defense for an abortionist who reasonably believes that the partial-birth abortion procedure is necessary to save the life of a mother.

"The doctor kept the baby's head just inside the uterus. The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall."

-- Brenda Pratt Shafer, R.N.

I'm Brenda Pratt Shafer, a Registered Nurse with 13 years of experience. One day in September, 1993, my nursing agency assigned me to work at a Dayton, Ohio, abortion clinic. I had often expressed strong "pro-choice" views to my two teenage daughters, so I thought this assignment would be no problem for me.

But I was wrong. I stood at a doctor's side as he performed the partial-birth abortion procedure-and what I saw is branded forever on my mind.

The mother was six months pregnant. The baby's heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. The doctor went in with forceps and grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms-everything but the head. The doctor kept the baby's head just inside the uterus.

The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out in a flinch; a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall.

The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby's brains out. Now the baby was completely limp.

I never went back to that clinic. But I am still haunted by the face of that little boy-- it was the most perfect, angelic face I have ever seen.

* Partial-birth abortions are usually performed from 41/2 months to 9 months of pregnancy. In a tape-recorded interview with American Medical News, the doctor who performed the procedure described above said that in his practice, "80%" of these procedures "are purely elective."

* On September 23, 1995, the Council on Legislation of the American Medical Association voted unanimously to endorse H.R. 1833. (Congress Daily, Oct. 10, 1995)

Defend the defenseless.

Support the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.