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Life, Death, and Partial-Birth Abortion

On November 26, 2003, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a "guest editorial" attacking the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and attacking President Bush and the Congress for enacting it. The essay was written by Monica J. Casper, a Seattle sociologist who has written a book titled The Making of the Unborn Patient: A Social Anatomy of Fetal Surgery (Rutgers University Press, 1998).

In her essay, Casper -- then 27 weeks pregnant -- argued that the bill could jeopardize her life and the lives of other pregnant women. Enactment of this bill meant that Congress felt "that my one-pound, non-voting, non-taxpaying fetus has more value than I do," Casper asserted.

In response, Carolyn A. Johnson, who is married to NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson, submitted her own account, which appears below. It was published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on December 5, 2003, in slightly different form.

Life, Death, and Partial-Birth Abortion
by Carolyn A. Johnson

In her guest column [Nov. 26], Monica J. Casper told readers that she is 27 weeks pregnant (just past six full months) with a "deeply wanted" baby. The recently enacted Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Casper argued, would force her to sacrifice her own life or health if she develops a serious illness, such as "severe preeclampsia."

Acute medical crises certain can occur during pregnancy, forcing life and death decisions to be made quickly. I know -- it happened to me.

During my first pregnancy in 1990, like Casper I was just a few days past the 27 week point when without warning I developed the most severe form of pre-eclampsia (called "HELLP syndrome"). My blood pressure rose steeply. My kidneys and liver began to fail. Doctors told us that unless the pregnancy was ended immediately, I would die -- and with me, our unborn son, Thomas.

At that point, Casper thinks I needed the legal option of a partial-birth abortion. In this procedure, Thomas would have been deliberately delivered alive, feet first and tummy down, until only his head remained lodged just inside my womb. A surgeon would have firmly wrapped his fingers over Thomas's shoulders, penetrated the base of his skull with seven-inch surgical scissors -- medical authorities say this is excruciatingly painful -- and removed his brain with a suction machine.

Yes, that is unpleasant to read -- but what I have just described is precisely the method described by an Ohio abortion practitioner in the 1992 instructional paper that touched off the debate over partial-birth abortion.

The bill explicitly allows a partial-birth abortion to be performed if "necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself." Yet, Casper suggested at least six times that the bill would force her "life" to be sacrificed for the benefit of "my one-pound, non-voting, non-taxpaying fetus."

But in reality, as former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and other eminent medical authorities told Congress, "partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to protect a mother's health or her future fertility. On the contrary, this procedure can pose a significant threat to both."

In fact, the overwhelming majority of partial-birth abortions do not involve medical issues at all. Even the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, Ron Fitzsimmons, acknowledges that the method is used thousands of times annually, and that "in the vast majority of cases, the procedure is performed on a healthy mother with a healthy fetus that is 20 weeks or more along."

Fortunately, our doctors knew that they had two patients in crisis, not just one. The pregnancy was indeed immediately terminated -- Thomas was delivered by emergency caesarian.

My condition immediately improved, but for weeks Thomas had to struggle for life. At birth, he weighed just one pound, 12 ounces. Days after birth, his grandfather -- a Wisconsin outdoorsman -- saw our baby in his neonatal incubator and thought to himself that Thomas had the size and hairless appearance of a "skinned squirrel."

Yet, today Thomas is an eighth-grade honor student. He has many interests and enthusiasms, including acting in plays and writing short stories.

On November 5, Thomas sat next to me in a room as President Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. We were among the hundreds present because Thomas's father happens to work for National Right to Life.

Although Caster seeks to cast the bill as an attack on women, there were many approving women in that room, including some of the dozens of female members of Congress who voted for the bill. Polls show that the overwhelming majority of American women favor the ban.

The President told us, "For years, a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches from birth, while the law looked the other way." Some people later criticized this statement because they said that the phrase "inches from birth" implied that partial-birth abortions are usually performed near full term.

But Thomas and countless others are living testimony that that "birth" and "full term" are two radically different things nowadays. Thomas was born 13 weeks before full term -- and there are many children alive today who were born a full month earlier than that.

Partial-birth abortions are performed beginning early in the fifth month. Even at that point, preemies who are expelled through spontaneous premature labor are usually live births -- so this abortion method is literally a partial live-birth, and the baby is indeed pulled to within "inches from birth," just as the President said.

Thomas read Casper's column today. He succinctly observed that there is one big difference between the act that Casper wants available and the approach we took:

"I am alive."

Printed with permission from National Right to Life (www.nrlc.org ).

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