Hearing on "Partial-Birth Abortion: The Truth"

House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution with the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Joint Hearing on "Partial-Birth Abortion: The Truth" - March 11, 1997

Testimony by Helen Alvare
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Director of Planning and Information
Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities

The Catholic Bishops' Conference (NCCB) has been engaged in the effort to ban partial-birth abortions since this legislative debate began. All materials that we have distributed to the public and to Congress have been produced today for the members of the sponsoring committees.

With the purpose of publishing accurate educational, lobbying and advertising materials, the NCCB has relied since the beginning of the debate principally upon the statements of doctors who perform this procedure. Such statements were published in a variety of places, including but not limited to: proceedings from a meeting of the National Abortion Federation, the American Medical News, the New York Times, letters to Congress entered in the Congressional Record on the occasion of hearings, and in articles in various newspapers and magazines in cities all over the nation. From these accounts -- in which abortion providers were often surprisingly frank about their practices -- we learned the detailed steps of an abortion procedure in which children are partially born before being killed, we learned the reasons many are done, and we were able to begin to estimate the numbers of these being performed in the United States today. Our published statements therefore accurately described the procedure. They conservatively estimated, based on the information available at the time, that there were from 600 to 2000 partial birth abortions performed annually in the United States. Regarding the reasons these were performed, we regularly quoted partial-birth abortion provider Dr. Martin Haskell's statement that 80% of those he performed were "purely elective" and the other 20% because the child had a genetic problem. We regularly referred to the records submitted by Dr. James McMahon to Congress showing the various reasons he performed partial-birth abortions including youth, depression, and cleft palate.

As more newspaper stories were published through the Fall of 1996, we gathered more information about numbers and reasons. The incoming information confirmed earlier trends: partial-birth procedures were indeed being performed on healthy children of healthy mothers and in numbers far greater than those claimed by various abortion advocacy groups. Our educational and lobbying materials reflected these reports.

Another theme that featured prominently in our educational materials was the way that I proponents of partial-birth abortion were repeating false information -- and getting away with it in the press. A few examples will illustrate.

I was interviewed last June by Eric Zorn, a columnist from the Chicago Tribune. Mr. Zorn's "thesis," as he explained it to me, was this: if any partial birth abortions were being performed for truly "elective" reasons, for reasons the public would consider nonserious, as the pro-life movement was claiming, the movement should produce the mothers involved. I explained at some length that it wasn't "the movement" claiming that the majority of these procedures were "elective", this fact was asserted by the partial-birth abortion providers themselves. I sent Zorn Dr. Haskell's statements as quoted in the American Medical News. I also sent the charts Dr. McMahon had provided to the Subcommittee on the Constitution in which he had detailed the rationales for abortions he had performed. These documents showed the elective nature of the majority of these procedures -- and in the words of the abortionists themselves. I asked Zorn to reconsider his own logic: aren't patient records confidential and in the possession of the abortion providers themselves, I asked? And if you were a woman who had your healthy child aborted would you be eager to go public? Nothing, however, could shake Mr. Zorn's tenacious grip on his thesis. He ended up writing- "That explanation won't do. If these once callous, cruel, selfish women who drive this national debate truly exist, let's hear from ." (June 6, 1996). In a follow-up column, he wrote: "Well, there are late-term abortions, there are "partial-birth" abortions and there are abortions performed for non-medical or elective reasons. We find very little overlap ... because later-term abortions are very rare and almost always performed for serious medical reasons. . .." (June 13, 1996).

Since Mr. Zorn's column, regarding the reasons partial-birth abortions are performed, the Bergen Record quoted an abortionist whose clinic performs about 1500 of these per year stating-. "Most are for elective, not medical, reasons: people who didn't realize, or didn't care, how far along they were." Mr. Zorn has never corrected himself.

Another egregious encounter occurred with the staff of the television program Sixty Minutes. Among the many problems with their June 2, 1996 program on partial-birth abortion, one stands out in my mind because it resulted in my being branded a liar in front of millions of viewers. The program included an interview with but one physician, late-term abortionist Warren Hem, a member of the National Abortion Federation which has so bald-facedly misrepresented the facts about partial birth abortion. They refused to broadcast interviews with doctors who opposed partial-birth abortion. Sixty Minutes insisted on posing medical questions about the procedure to me, a lawyer. When asked about the procedure's safety, I quoted a statement made by Dr. Warren Hem that had appeared in the American Medical News. Dr. Hem was quoted as saying& "I would dispute any claim that this is the safest procedure to use." (November 20, 1995). 1 had given Ed Bradley's Sixty Minutes staff a copy of the Hem quotation in advance of their Hem interview. On camera, however, this was the result:

Ed Bradley: So when she [Helen Alvare ] says that you said it's not the safest procedure, what would you say to her?

Dr. Hern: Horsepuckey! She's misquoting me. That is not what I said,

When Sixty Minutes was challenged by Cardinal William Keeler of the bishops' Communications Committee, he received this response from the executive producer: "As for Dr. Hern, we felt satisfied journalistically by his assertions that he had been misquoted. I understand that he has made that plain either to the writer or the publication." In fact, the very opposite is true, Dr. Hern told American Medical News that he had been quoted accurately. I checked. And that information was equally available to Sixty Minutes.

Much of the NCCB's public material, therefore, as you will see from the documents produced today, focused on correcting falsehoods appeafing regularly on the air and in print. Our public protest and efforts to meet with President Clinton were likwise focused on this. But when all of the Cardinals of the United States and about 50 bishops gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for the first time in our history to speak the truth about partial-birth abortion, there was almost no media coverage. And our efforts to meet with President Clinton and to clear up the misinformation on which he has based his position have not been successful.

But the distortions from partial-birth proponents continue, even in current weeks. Recent press releases from groups like the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and statements from other pro-abortion leaders evidence their new strategies in light of recent revelations greatly embarrassing to them:

First, they now claim that their earlier statements about the numbers of and reasons for partial-birth abortions were only intended to address third-trimester procedures. Why? They say it's because the pro-lifers forced them into this posture by indicating that these procedures were mostly in the third trimester. But the proof is to the contrary. The National Right to Life Committee, the major publisher of pro-life educational materials on this subject, is here to speak for itself today. Their materials never made this mistake. Nor did ours. A review of all the materials published by the NCCB whether to Congress or to the public show that we usually did not even mention the timing of partial-birth procedures in our materials. When we did, we used the expressions, "late-term abortion" or "second and third trimester abortions." Our regular references to infanticide in connection with partial-birth abortion accurately characterize the nature of the procedure; it is commonly understood that children newly and mostly delivered into the world, whether in the second or third trimester, are called infants, whether they live briefly or have a long life.

A second new strategy of proponents of partial-birth abortion in light of recent revelations about their deception- they are claiming that the thousands of partial-birth abortions performed on healthy children of healthy mothers are irrelevant. Partial-birth abortions must be preserved, they argue, for situations in which they are the only recourse for protecting women's health and future fertility. Thus they oppose the ban as presently written and urge Congress to adopt a "health" exception. But claims for the "medical necessity" of partial-birth abortion have been definitively and univocally refuted by hundreds of medical experts including abortionists themselves[1], the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists[2], which is widely known for its support for legal abortion, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop[3] and heads of ob-gyn departments at universities and colleges nationwide.

A third new strategy: ignore allegations about knowingly spreading misinformation and attack the Catholic Church. A recent example of this occurred on the March fifth Crossfire program in which co-host William Press and Pat Ireland of the National Organization of Women repeatedly ridiculed the Catholic Church and its role in the debate about partial-birth abortion.

A fourth strategy: continue to make the case for partial-birth abortions on the backs of people with disabilities. With euphemisms like "pregnancy that has gone tragically wrong," Planned Parenthood continues to argue as recently as last week that partial-birth abortions are a good way to keep sick children from living. In much more explicit language, Betty Friedan argued on a January twenty-second Hardball program in favor of partial-birth abortions of children she twice called "monsters" -- meaning very sick, disabled children.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops has participated in many, many public debates regarding different aspects of abortion for decades. We would be hard pressed to find one in which the level of deception and insult by pro-abortion groups has reached such a fever pitch. All we ask as this debate over partial-birth abortions continues, is that it proceed based upon the truth. For the truth about this procedure, the method itself and its elective nature, is all that is needed to make the case for abolishing it.

And in that spirit, we are very grateful for the decision of your joint committees to hold this hearing, and to request our participation. Thank you.


In testimony in the Ohio lawsuit concerning banning partial-birth abortions, Dr. Harlan Giles, who performs second trimester abortions up to the point of viability, testified:

I do not think there are any maternal conditions that I'm aware of that mandate ending the pregnancy that, also, require that the fetus be dead or that the fetal life be terminated. In my experience for twenty years, one can deliver these fetuses either vaginally or by cesarean section for that matter depending on the choice of the parent...

And I cannot think of a fetal condition or malformation, no matter how severe, that actually causes harm or risk to the mother of continuing the pregnancy.

In most cases mothers carrying an abnormal fetus such as with Down's syndrome, anencephaly, the absence of a brain itself, dwarfism. Other severe even lethal chromosome abnormalities, those mothers if you follow their pregnancy have no higher risk of pregnancy complications than for any other mother who's progressing to term for a delivery." (Women's Medical Professional Corp. v. Voinovich, No.C-3-95-414, U. S. District Court, Southern District, Ohio (1995) ).

ACOG's January 12, 1997 Statement of Policy stated- "A select panel convened by ACOG could identify no circumstances under which this procedure as defined above, would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman." The author of this memorandum then said -- "An intact D&X, however, may be the best" in particular circumstances But then in the March 3, 1997 American Medical News, he sai& "or it may not be" (p. 53).

In an August 19, 1996 American Medical News, Surgeon General Koop stated- "In no way can I twist my mind to see ' that the late-term abortion as described -- you know, partial-birth then destruction of the unborn child before the head is born -- is a medical necessity for the mother."