Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I hadn't been getting involved in the partial-birth abortion ban debate, until I read this:

If the ban were in place in 1995, Tammy Watts would likely be dead, she says.

In March of that year, Watts was in the eighth month of a much-wanted pregnancy and was eagerly anticipating the birth of her first child. During a routine ultrasound (the only way to detect abnormalities that require late-term abortion), she discovered her baby had Trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality that causes severe deformities and carries no hope of survival.

Because her baby was already dying and because this put her own life at stake, Watts had an intact dilation and extraction (D and X), the procedure that Bush condemns as "brutal."

"Losing my baby at the end of my pregnancy was agonizing," says Watts. "But the way the right deals with this issue makes it even worse. When I heard Bush mention 'partial birth abortion' during the debates, I thought 'How dare you stand there and tell flat-out lies?' There is no such thing as this procedure! Why won't the politicians listen to us?"


When Congress first considered the ban in 1995, Watts testified on Capitol Hill. So did Viki Wilson of Fresno, Calif., who had a late-term abortion because the brain of the fetus she was carrying had developed outside the skull. So did Vikki Stella of Naperville, Ill., whose fetus had dwarfism, no brain tissue and seven other major abnormalities.

All three women told legislators they owed their health to late-term abortions and that a continuation of their doomed pregnancies posed grave health risks such as stroke, paralysis, infertility or even death.

As they campaign to save access to these procedures, Watts, Stella and Wilson point out that in virtually all cases, late-term abortions are the only way to respond to unanticipated complications: the death of the fetus inside the womb, problems that mean the fetus can't live outside the womb, or serious threats to the mother's health.

"No women has these procedures for frivolous reasons," says Stella. "They have them because it's their only choice."


Watts, Stella and Wilson note that late-term abortions are sanctioned by many medical professional groups. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Washington, D.C., calls intact D and X--a commonly used late-term procedure--"the most appropriate and safest" option in some cases. The American Nurses Association, Silver Spring, Md., and the American Medical Women's Association, Alexandria, Va., also approve the practice.

Pro-choice advocates also note that despite all the political hoopla, intact D and X procedures are very rare, accounting for only 2,200 of the 1 million U.S. abortions performed each year.

Sorry to quote such a huge portion, but after reading about this case now up before the Supreme Court, I'm really interested in how the term "partial birth abortion" has been invented (it's not a medical term). Shakespeare's Sister had a write up of this, too. I just don't see why politicians feel the need to get involved in a rare procedure, that women are obviously choosing in extreme circumstances. Why is anyone trying to protect the "life" of a fetus that won't survive outside the womb? Or that's already dying/dead in the womb?


karuna said...

I'm totally opposed to partial birth abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger. However, I have a separate question since you bring up the possibility of babies born with birth defects. How do you feel about the increased abortion rate of children with disabilities, like down syndrome? This is a common phenomenon, especially in very liberal states like California. Pediatricians in California are reporting a significant decline in the number of Downs kids that they see. I have to say, after having worked with kids with disabilities, that this broke my heart. It is like as a society we are deciding what life is worth living. It seems to me that all the proclamations of equal opportunity for people with disabilities mean nothing if it's ok to abort your baby based exclusively on if he/she is "normal." So I was wondering if you had any insight into that.

Furthermore, don't you think abortion of babies with disabilities starts on a slippery slope? What if doctors could predict if a child was going to have vision problems? Or if a child was going to have a learning disability? These are all significant possibilities in science today. Is it ok to abort you child based on these imperfections? Basically, Beck, where does it stop?

Becky said...

Karuna, I think you're right to question where it stops. But the problem with a total ban on partial birth abortion (except for clear and immediate danger to the woman's life), is that it doesn't take into account the cases that fall in between. What really opened my eyes in the article I quoted from, is that this ban wouldn't protect women from carrying a fetus that was going to die before it was born, or that had such extreme birth defects that it wouldn't survive birth. When we're talking about a fetus that has no brain tissue, we're not talking about a child with a learning disability. I think it's problematic that politicians, who are fighting for ideology & voters' opinions, are making these laws. There are too many shades of gray to take these decisions out of the hands of women and their doctors. What these women are fighting for, is the right to decide not to carry a terminal pregnancy to term, or to wait for the dead body of their unborn child to naturally abort.

I agree that there is a slippery slope to some Gataca-like selection of which pregnancies are carried through. I can understand why a woman would choose to have an abortion rather than give birth to a severly disabled child -- the choice might be based on questionable stances, but for those who don't believe that life starts at the moment of sperm meeting egg, I can see how one might justify making such a choice. But even if women are making such decisions, I still don't think that politicians should make the decisions for them. Also, this isn't an issue exclusive to "partial birth abortions."

What's interesting to me, is that late term abortions are quite rare, and many women resort to them despite very much wanting the child. This is where I think it's problematic that politicians are labeling every late term abortion as necessarily "brutal" or unlawful. In many cases, late term abortions save a woman's ability to have children in the future (rather than wait for a stillbirth), or save a woman from paralysis. Our current laws on self-defense would surely allow a woman to kill an attacker who attempted to paralyze her, for example, so why should an abortion law put the rights of a terminal fetus over those of the woman carrying it?