As the Supreme Court Begins weighing the case for/against "partial birth" abortions and as South Dakota passes an unconstitutional state ban on abortion, I thought I'd pass on this informative write up on what it is/isn't as the
First, let’s get our terms straight. The so-called “partial birth abortion” is a misnomer, to say the least. The procedure is not abortion as defined within medical science. The term "abortion" means the termination of pregnancy before the fetus is viable. However, it does fall within the definition of "abortion" which is used by most of the public.
The medical terms: "D&X" procedures, an abbreviation of "dilate and extract," or "Intact D&E," or "Intrauterine Cranial Decompression" procedures.
The odious and dishonest term "Partial Birth Abortion" was recently created by pro-life groups when the procedure became actively discussed at a political and religious level.
By the way, the vast, VAST majority of D&Xs are performed on non-viable fetuses, generally having little brain tissue at all -- or a mass of liquefied brain tissue. Obviously, your claim that "...If you were not afraid it would come out kicking screaming and breathing like a real baby it would not be necessary to de-brain it..." does not apply in those cases. I wonder if that is made clear in pro-life propaganda?
What is the D&X Procedure?
The D&X procedure is usually performed during the fifth month of gestation or later. The woman's cervix is dilated, and the fetus is partially removed from the womb, feet first. The surgeon inserts a sharp object into the back of the fetus' head, removes it, and inserts a vacuum tube through which the brains are extracted. The head of the fetus contracts at this point and allows the fetus to be more easily removed from the womb.
Why D&X procedures Are Performed:
D&Xs are not performed during the first three months of pregnancy, because there are better ways to perform abortions. There is no need to follow a D&X procedure, because the fetus' head quite small at this stage of gestation and can be quite easily removed from the woman's uterus.
D&Xs are very rarely performed in the late second trimester at a time in the pregnancy before the fetus is viable. These, like most abortions, are performed for a variety of reasons, including:
-- She is not ready to have a baby and has delayed her decision to have an abortion into the second trimester (or perhaps has been OBSTRUCTED from receiving the abortion earlier, as is OFTEN the case) .As mentioned above, 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester.
-- There are mental or physical health problems related to the pregnancy.
-- The fetus has been found to be dead, badly malformed, or suffering from a very serious genetic defect. This is often only detectable late in the second trimester. Obviously, "...If you were not afraid it would come out kicking screaming and breathing like a real baby it would not be necessary to de-brain it..." does not apply, since in most cases the fetus doesn't HAVE a brain -- not one that will ever FUNCTION, anyway.
D&X procedures are also very rarely performed in late pregnancy. The most common justifications at that time are:
-- The fetus is dead.
I repeat: Obviously, "...If you were not afraid it would come out kicking screaming and breathing like a real baby it would not be necessary to de-brain it..." does not apply.
-- The fetus is alive, but continued pregnancy would place the woman's life in severe danger.
-- The fetus is alive, but continued pregnancy would grievously damage the woman's health and/or disable her.
-- The fetus is so malformed that it can never gain consciousness and will die shortly after birth. Many which fall into this category have developed a very severe form of hydrocephalus. Obviously, "...If you were not afraid it would come out kicking screaming and breathing like a real baby it would not be necessary to de-brain it..." does not apply.
-- In addition, some physicians violate their state medical association's regulations and perform elective D&X procedures - primarily on women who are suicidally depressed.
There appears to be no reliable data available on how many D&X procedures are performed for each of the above reasons.
The physician is faced with two main alternatives at this late point in pregnancy:
-- a ”hysterotomy,” which is similar to a Cesarean section, or
-- a D&X procedure.
Approximately 1 in 2000 fetuses develop hydrocephalus while in the womb. About 5000 fetuses develop hydrocephalus each year in the U.S. This is not usually discovered until late in the second trimester. Some cases are not severe. After birth, shunts can be installed to relieve the excess fluid on the newborn's brain. A pre-natal method of removing the excess fluid is being experimentally evaluated. However, some cases are much more serious. "It is not unusual for the fetal head to be as large as 50 centimeters (nearly 20 inches) in diameter and may contain...close to two gallons of cerebrospinal fluid." In comparison, the average adult skull is about 7 to 8 inches in diameter. A fetus with severe hydrocephalus is alive, but as a newborn cannot live for long; it cannot achieve consciousness. The physician may elect to perform a D&X by draining off the fluid from the brain area, collapsing the fetal skull and withdrawing the dead fetus. Or, he might elect to perform a type of caesarian section. The former kills a fetus before birth; the latter allows the newborn to die after birth, on its own. A caesarian section is a major operation. It does expose the woman to a greatly increased chance of infection. It poses its own dangers to a woman and any future pregnancies. Allowing a woman to continue in labor with a severely hydrocephalic fetus is not an option; an attempted vaginal delivery would kill her and the fetus.
The exact number of D&Xs performed is impossible to estimate with accuracy. Many states do not have strict reporting regulations.
One often quoted figure was that over 1000 D&Xs had been performed annually in New Jersey. From this number, many inflated national totals were estimated. But the New Jersey figure appears to be an anomaly. A single physician in a single NJ hospital had been ignoring the regulations of the state medical association and performing D&Xs in cases not involving the potential death or serious disability of the woman.
Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, estimated (Nightline program, 1997-FEB-26) a total of 3,000 to 4,000 annually in the US -- about ten a day.
Pro-life groups discovered an internal memo by Planned Parenthood which estimated that up to 60 (0.24%) of the more than 25,000 abortions performed annually in Virginia were D&Xs. If this figure is accurate nationally, then there would be up to 2,880 D&X procedures per year in the U.S.
Referring to a Virginia state law, Bennet Greenberg, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia said: "I'm not aware of a need for this bill in the first place, since this procedure is very, very rare, and I'm not aware it's ever been used [in Virginia]."
And now, for some sources of some DISINFORMATION about D&X:
-- On 1995-JUL-19, on the radio program Focus on the Family Dr. (sic) James Dobson referred to “PBAs” (sic) as a type of "Nazi era experimentation" in which doctors "suck the brain matter out of a living, viable baby for use in medical experiments.”
The incorrect impression given was that this is a procedure requested by researchers eager to study brain structure. They arbitrarily select an about-to-be-born fetus at random from the nearest delivery room, and kill it in order to get more research material. The program generated a flood of telephone calls which paralyzed Federal government switchboards.
To our knowledge, Dr. Dobson has never apologized for his misleading statements or corrected his misrepresentation of the facts.
-- Senator Rick Santorum, one of the leaders in the Senate of a D&X ban, said that the procedure is a gruesome form of infanticide.
[The term infanticide refers to the killing of a newborn infant; it is not applicable to an unborn fetus during a D&X procedure.]
Senator Santorum also said that it is a lie to argue that a D&X is sometimes required to protect a woman from a serious health risk.
But if he truly believed that statement, then he would not have objected to President Clinton's request that an exemption be added to the bill in cases of serious health risks to the woman. After all, if there was no risk of a devastating health problem, then the exemption would never be exercised, and there would be no harm in including it in the bill.
D&X is, as you can see, not a common procedure, not by a long shot – it is performed in cases of ABSOLUTE necessity. The way the pro-life movement refers to it, you’d think it was as common as a first trimester abortion. That’s not a mistake. They WANT you to think that, because it is a horrifying procedure, one no woman undergoes unless she has to – but that fact, which should be obvious, is obscured in favour of the incendiary and mendacious lies perpetrated by people who would like nothing more that to outlaw all abortion.
Now that we've got it clear that thousands of women aren't lining up across the country to have full grown, kicking, screaming, ready-to-walk babies yanked out of them and slaughtered, can we please have an intelligent debate about the topic?