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Courts should strike down bans on abortion method in Kansas, Oklahoma

Courts should strike down bans on abortion method in Kansas, Oklahoma
The members of the Kansas House of Representatives on March 25. The House worked on a bill that day banning the "dilation and evacuation" abortion procedure, which is used in 8 percent of the state's abortions. (Thad Allton / Associated Press)

The latest attempts to restrict abortion rights don't even bother to pretend to protect women's health — as various state legislatures argued they were doing with recent laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The new efforts go straight for the drama.

Kansas and Oklahoma this month became the first states to ban the safest, most widely used method of abortion in the second trimester. The nearly identical laws, which are both referred to as the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act, outlaw the procedure known as "dilation and evacuation" (or D&E) which is described in the Kansas legislation as "dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus." The law makes an exception to save the life of the mother.

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The bills were designed to make the procedure sound as gruesome as possible in nonmedical, emotion-laden terms. However, the legislators are accurate on the basics of the procedure: In a D&E, the fetus is removed with forceps, and disarticulation — a medical term that means dismemberment but is less likely to be used in a horror movie — usually occurs, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The fact is, lots of surgical procedures sound horrific; most are intensely invasive and unpleasant to describe. In this case, the "dismemberment" is being done to fetuses that are not viable outside the womb and that scientists agree cannot feel pain. (Don't be fooled by the unscientific claims of some anti-abortion groups that they can.)

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Nearly 90% of abortions in the U.S. are performed in the first trimester, when a D&E is not necessary. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that women have a constitutional right to an abortion up to the time that the fetus becomes viable outside the womb, which is about 24 weeks — the end of the second trimester.

Doctors say women most commonly seek late abortions because they didn't realize they were pregnant, they discovered a fetal abnormality or they have a serious health issue. The D&E procedure is performed in about 95% of second trimester abortions because it is the most effective method at that stage of pregnancy. The alternative, known as a medical abortion, takes longer, is less certain to work and sometimes requires a second procedure to suction out all or part of the placenta.

No matter how abortion opponents describe the D&E procedure, their efforts represent nothing more than another attack on access to legal and safe abortions.

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