Opinion Writing

On Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

Arindam Mukherjee

Guided by ultrasound, the abortionist grabs the baby’s legs with forceps. You can see the baby is intact and its heartbeat is clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. The baby is then grabbed by its leg and pulled into the birth canal. The doctor helps deliver the baby’s entire body, except for the head. Then, he picks up a scissors jams it into the baby’s skull and opens it to enlarge the hole. The child’s brain is then sucked out with a suction catheter, causing the skull to collapse. The baby is then removed. This is how a partial birth abortion is performed. Very brutal.

Partial birth abortion should be completely done away with. On November 5, President Bush finally signed the long-awaited Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The bill is a pivotal moment in the crusade against killing of babies already in the second trimester stage or more. Not only will the Act stop the killing of intact fetuses, it will decrease the risk to a mother’s life considerably.

Doctors and research both say that the risk of complications to the mother rises as a pregnancy progresses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that between 1979 and 1986 almost 5 percent of maternal deaths in U.S. were due to abortion. The leading causes of death from abortion during this period were hemorrhage from uterine bleeding, generalized infection, and blood clots in the lungs, said the report.

Then, on November 2, 1994, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study reporting on the relationship between abortion and breast cancer. It said among women who had been pregnant at least once, the risk of breast cancer in those who had experienced an induced abortion was 50 percent higher than among other women.

Meanwhile, the ban on abortion has been welcome by a majority of Americans all over the country. This was what they had been waited for around three decades now. In fact, a Gallup’s poll conducted in January 2003 showed that 70 percent of U.S. adults were in favor of the ban, and only 25 percent opposed it.

Critics are fearing that the partial-birth abortion ban may be applied to all abortions. The bill though is pretty clear on this. Partial-birth is a specific procedure which is called Dilation and Extraction (D&X) in the medical parlance. Sen. Rick Santorum, the Bill’s sponsor said in a debate in the Senate, “The term ‘partial birth’ comes from the fact that the baby is partially born, is in the process of being delivered… Here is this child who is literally inches away from being born, who would otherwise be born alive.” Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate's only doctor, concluded the debate by describing the procedure as “destroying the body of a mature unborn child.”

Doctors are glad that the bill is finally in place. “The Bill will help stop killing fetuses without enough reasons,” said Shanker Mukherjee, a doctor in Pennsylvania who has been lobbying for the ban for a decade now. “Health risk is the major reason cited by the mother for choosing abortion. With the ban in place, the government should also make it a rule for exceptional cases – where the need for an abortion is certified by at least two doctors and the operations are conducted under the bio-medical ethics of good hospitals, not just anywhere.”

While abortion opponents hail the legislation as a hard-fought victory, abortion rights groups have already promised to challenge the ban, placing the issue again in the hands of the Supreme Court, which narrowly struck down a similar Nebraska partial-birth.