After the Supreme Court upheld the “partial birth” abortion ban in April I wrote a couple of posts (“Late-Term Confusion” and “More Late-Term Confusion“) about how the Fetus People celebrating the end of “late-term abortion” had been seriously misled. I predicted the FPs would be in for a shock when they realized what the decision was really about, and that it did not “save” any “babies” at all.
Well, that day has arrived. Some in the rank-and-file of the movement to criminalize abortion have realized they’ve been had. And in a messy attempt at damage control, a spokesperson for James Dobson’s Focus on the Family explained that the “partial birth” ban would stop some abortions, because the alternative procedures are more dangerous to women. Which is what we pro-choicers have been saying all along.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave …
In an open letter to Dobson that was published as a full-page ad May 23 in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Focus on the Family’s hometown newspaper, and May 30 in the Washington Times, the heads of five small but vocal groups called the Carhart decision “wicked,” and accused Dobson of misleading Christians by applauding it.
Carhart is even “more wicked than Roe” because it is “not a ban, but a partial-birth abortion manual” that affirms the legality of late-term abortions “as long as you follow its guidelines,” the ads said. “Yet, for many years you have misled the Body of Christ about the ban, and now about the ruling itself.”
Brian Rohrbough, president of Colorado Right to Life and a signer of the ads, said:
“All you have to do is read the ruling, and you will find that this will never save a single child, because even though the justices say this one technique is mostly banned — not completely banned — there are lots of other techniques, and they even encourage abortionists to find less shocking means to kill late-term babies,” he said.
Another signer, the Rev. Bob Enyart, a Christian talk radio host and pastor of the Denver Bible Church, said the real issue is fundraising.
“Over the past seven years, the partial-birth abortion ban as a fundraising technique has brought in over a quarter of a billion dollars” for major antiabortion groups, “but the ban has no authority to prevent a single abortion, and pro-life donors were never told that,” he said. “That’s why we call it the pro-life industry.”
In Rohrbough’s view, partisan politics is also involved.
“What happened in the abortion world is that groups like National Right to Life, they’re really a wing of the Republican Party, and they’re not geared to push for personhood for an unborn child — they’re geared to getting Republicans elected,” he said. “So we’re seeing these ridiculous laws like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban put forward, and then we’re deceived about what they really do.”
WaPo‘s Alan Cooperman frames this little clash as a “split between incrementalists who support piecemeal restrictions and purists who seek a wholesale prohibition on abortions,” but I doubt that’s the issue. It’s obvious that some among the faithful who bothered to read the Carhart decision and deliberations were shocked into the realization that the anti-choice leadership had been lying to them about “partial birth” abortions.
The faithful had been coaxed into believing that “partial birth” abortion was a synonym for “late-term” abortion, and that by banning “PBA” they would save viable “babies” from being killed by their mothers. Without PBA, they thought, women had no alternative but live birth. This belief was expressed recently by the perpetually clueless Dean Barnett:
While most people agree that life begins at some point between conception and birth, pro-choice absolutists argue that life doesn’t begin until the fetus is fully delivered. Thus, they can enthusiastically defend a procedure like “partial birth abortion” where the fetus is partially delivered and then brutally “terminated” before it is fully delivered.
As near as I can tell, Barnett assumes the point of “PBA” is to kill the “baby” before it is fully delivered, because killing a baby after delivery is infanticide. And after the Carhart decision was handed down many rightie bloggers declared that women in their third trimester would no longer be able to waltz into an abortion clinic and get their babies killed as easily as getting a bikini wax. This assumption revealed a gross ignorance of the issue, both medically and legally.
As explained in the two “confusion” posts linked above, elective late-term abortions were already illegal. The Roe v. Wade decision provided that states could ban elective abortions when the fetus has been gestating long enough that it might be viable, a stage reached very late in the second trimester. Most states have passed laws that prohibit abortions after that point except where a physician decides there is a real medical need.
The fact is that the procedure the Fetus People call “partial birth” is most often performed in the second trimester, before the fetus is viable, which in my mind is a mid-term abortion. The fetus is not going to survive a mid-term “birth” no matter how it is performed.
Further, there are other ways to perform mid- and late-term abortions that the “PBA” law does not ban. The justices of the Supreme Court discussed these other procedures in their deliberations on Carhart. None of these other procedures were secret. You can learn all about them with a few minutes of googling. But apparently true believers like Brian Rohrbough were in the dark about this until he read the Carhart deliberations and decision.
Thus, to some people, Carhart is “not a ban, but a partial-birth abortion manual.” It explains procedures they didn’t know about, but in fact have been the more common procedures used in mid- and late-term abortions for many years. And the laws about how late in pregnancy an abortion may be performed have not changed.
(If any Fetus People are reading this, let me say that I’ve been trying to explain this to you meatheads for years. Many’s the time I attempted to explain that your beloved “partial birth” bills would, in effect, ban no abortions at all. And for my trouble I was called a lying baby killer. Listen to me next time, OK?)
Here’s where it gets cute (emphasis added):
A Focus on the Family spokesman said that Dobson would not comment. But the organization’s vice president, Tom Minnery, said that Dobson rejoiced over the ruling “because we, and most pro-lifers, are sophisticated enough to know we’re not going to win a total victory all at once. We’re going to win piece by piece.”
Doctors adopted the late-term procedure “out of convenience,” Minnery added. “The old procedure, which is still legal, involves using forceps to pull the baby apart in utero, which means there is greater legal liability and danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus. So we firmly believe there will be fewer later-term abortions as a result of this ruling.”
Got that? Doctors only performed “partial birth” abortions as a convenience to themselves, because malpractice suits filed by women with mangled reproductive organs are such an inconvenience.
… the Court’s decision [Carhart] was predicated on the conclusion that there was a plausible case that a safer form of abortion — standard D&E — remains legally available for women in late stages of pregnancy.
But in today’s Washington Post, one of the foremost proponents of the law appears to take issue with this aspect of the Court’s holding — indeed, this anti-abortion group appears to argue that the Act’s prohibition is especially desirable precisely because the primary alternative method of late-term abortion endangers the health of women.
I am not a physician and cannot speak to risk of any medical procedure with any authority. I just know what I read. My understanding is that the principal risk of the standard D&E procedure is that in a small number of cases damage to reproductive organs makes future pregnancies more difficult. According to this Alan Guttmacher document (page 22),
Some studies suggest that second-trimester abortion using dilation and evacuation may pose some increased risk of complications in future pregnancies, such as premature delivery and low birth weight in future pregnancies (as it does for short-term mortality and morbidity).
Thus, by banning the safer method, Congress may have inadvertently caused future fetal deaths.
After that, it gets even creepier. Rebecca Vesely writes at InsideBayArea.com that confusion over the “PBA” act is pushing physicians away from safe medical practice in several ways.
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a federal ban on so-called partial-birth abortion in April is causing medical practitioners to explore alternate second-trimester abortion methods, placing them in uncharted legal and medical waters that could compromise women’s health.
The ban is expected to bring more risky abortion methods â€” with little clinical data on safety â€” into wider use for the sole purpose of legally protecting providers, doctors and experts say.
These alternative second-trimester abortion methods include fetalcide â€” killing the fetus while it is still in the womb â€” and hysterotomy, opening the uterus through an abdominal incision.
Those aren’t new procedures, I don’t believe. Just not the preferred procedures.
While practitioners can continue to perform D&Es, they must now be careful about their methods, Drey said.
Dilating a woman’s cervix too far could show intent to perform a D&X â€” a violation of the law. Even the way clinicians hold forceps could show intent, Drey said.
“This is where it becomes frightening for physicians,” she said. “To do a safe D&E, you like to have more dilators. Now we are being told that more dilation means you have intent to do a criminal procedure.”
Not dilating a woman’s cervix far enough can result in discomfort, pain and medical risk, she said. [emphasis added]
I liked this bit: “Clinicians are now referring to a legal second-trimester abortion as a “Kennedy D&E,” said Heather Saunders Estes, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo.” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was the formerly pro-choice justice who voted with the
troglodytes majority in Carhart.
See also Scott Lemieux, “It’s Alright Mr. Kennedy, My Uterus Is Only Bleeding.”