EDITORIAL: The Disingenuous Abortion Ban

T here are many who argue that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (S.3), which was passed by the Senate on October 21, and now awaits President Bush’s signature, discriminates against a woman’s freedom of choice and impinges upon her rights. In addition, it seems that much of the rhetoric behind the movement to ban “partial-birth abortion” is misleading. Past arguments against the procedure have implied that it was a form of “Nazi era experimentation” in which doctors “suck the brain matter out of a living, viable baby for use in medical experiments.” Obviously, that is not the case.
The text of the ban argues, “in addition to promoting maternal health, such a prohibition will draw a bright line that clearly distinguishes abortion and infanticide, that preserves the integrity of the medical profession, and promotes respect for human life.” It should be noted that the word “infanticide” describes the killing of a newborn infant; this doesn’t apply to the unborn fetus extracted during the procedure. The rest of the bill is loaded with suggestive language such as “gruesome and inhumane” and “destructive,” used to describe a recognized medical procedure that no one in the medical profession even refers to as “partial-birth abortion”-it is a misnomer. The phrase refers to two procedures, “dilation and extraction” (D & X) and “dilatation and evacuation” (D & E) as the same, when in fact the former occurs during the third trimester and the latter during the second. The public is misinformed about these important distinctions!
The law adds that “the father, if married to the mother at the time she receives a partial-birth abortion procedure” or “the maternal grandparents of the fetus” (if she is under 18) may receive “(A) money damages for all injuries, psychological and physical, occasioned by the violation of this section; and (B) statutory damages equal to three times the cost of the partial-birth abortion” from the doctor if either of these parties did not consent to the abortion. Where is the woman’s choice in this? What’s even more insulting to the woman is that this bill seems to have little to do with restricting the procedure (a rare procedure, used about 0.04 percent of the time) and everything to do with creating a controversy that could be useful in election campaigns.
There are only two references to women in the entire bill that do not relate to the lack of perceived health risk. One says that the woman cannot be prosecuted, and the other cites a “prominent medical association” which has recognized that “the ‘partial birth’ gives the fetus an autonomy which separates it from the right of the woman to choose treatments for her own body.” There are no further attempts to grapple with the problems of taking away a woman’s autonomy and choices.
There is a unique health risk that is remedied by D & X procedures called hydrocephalus, in which an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain’s ventricles enlarges the skull and compresses the brain, also destroying much neural tissue. “Approximately 1 in 2000 fetuses develop hydrocephalus while in the womb,” notes Dr. William F. Harrison, of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Often a D & X procedure is necessary for the survival of the mother through pregnancy. Don’t think so? Sometimes the head of a fetus with hydrocephalus can grow to 20 inches; the size of a normal human head is 8 inches in diameter. You try passing a computer monitor through YOUR cervix.
It is time to realize, as research has proven, that abortion procedures are viable methods of fertility regulation and integral to family planning strategies. Contraception is never foolproof – the Vatican says to do away with it altogether. If a woman can’t make a choice to end an unwanted pregnancy (however it was begun), she is prohibited from enjoying and exploring her sexuality in a manner as unhindered as men. To be anti-choice implies that women should carry out more “traditional” and domestic roles as wives and mothers, and devalues sexual freedom and socioeconomic independence.