The abortion rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it and so, probably, does everyone else.” So spoke Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, in an interview about the facts of partial-birth abortion, whereby a living child is pulled from its mother until all but the head is delivered. A scissors is plunged into the skull, a tube inserted and the brains suctioned out. The now-dead infant is then delivered. Partial-birth abortion, Fitzsimmons now says, is performed 3,000 to 5,000 times a year, most often on the healthy mothers of healthy babies.
So two of the most critical and hotly debated components of the partial-birth abortion debate--how many of these abortions are performed and for what reasons--are not in dispute after all. A prominent member of the pro-abortion community has confirmed what opponents of partial-birth abortion said from the beginning.
Fitzsimmons also says that he “lied through my teeth” in a “Nightline” interview when he asserted that partial-birth abortions were performed rarely and only when the life of the mother or the health of the fetus was in question. But Fitzsimmons is by no means the greatest offender. The National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Rights Action League repeatedly have claimed that partial-birth abortion is a rare third-trimester procedure only performed in the most extreme medical circumstances. Just last week, the home page of the National Abortion Federation informed web visitors: “This procedure is used only in about 500 cases per year, generally after 20 weeks of pregnancy and most often when there is a severe fetal anomaly or maternal health problem detected late in pregnancy.” President Clinton reiterated these arguments when he vetoed the bill to ban partial-birth abortion last fall.
The revelations by Fitzsimmons, the head of the country’s second largest “trade association” of abortion providers, underscore a disturbing truth about the public dialogue on this issue, one that pro-life advocates were stating all along: There was an enormous disparity between what abortion advocates knew and what they talked about. As sponsors of the partial-birth abortion ban, we knew--and publicly maintained--that this procedure was routinely performed in the second trimester--that is, the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy--on the healthy children of healthy mothers. We also knew, as did hundreds of obstetrician/gynecologists and fetal-maternal specialists including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, that “partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to protect a mother’s health or her future fertility.” Indeed, the doctors say the breech-style delivery used in this procedure can significantly threaten a mother’s health or ability to carry future children to term.
Based on the disinformation promulgated by abortion advocates, a phony “compromise” proposal is planned by Clinton and Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). The proposal is no compromise; it simply does not address partial-birth abortion. The Clinton/Daschle proposal only applies to third-trimester abortions except to save the mother’s life or “health.” But most partial-birth abortions are in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy--not the third trimester. With regard to third trimester abortions, the proposal’s “health” exception would effectively permit all abortions. The Supreme Court interprets “health” abortions so broadly as to include all those related to social, psychological, financial or emotional concerns.
The only effective and honest legislative response to partial-birth abortion is one that bans it with a clear life of the mother exception, like the bill that we have proposed. Both the House and Senate passed such legislation with bipartisan majorities in the 104th Congress. The Senate has reintroduced legislation known as the Canady/Santorum Partial-Birth Abortion Ban and the House will reintroduce the same bill Wednesday.
With the acknowledgment by committed abortion advocates that the pro-abortion lobby misinformed the public on the frequency, necessity and timing of partial-birth abortions, we reach a critical juncture in this debate. We will have to openly decide if we want to live with the profound personal and social consequences of partial-birth abortions that are routinely performed in the fifth and sixth month of pregnancy on the healthy babies of healthy mothers.