Partial-Birth Abortion

What is partial-birth abortion?

Partial-birth abortion (PBA) is the term Congress has used to describe a procedure that crosses the line from abortion to infanticide.  The doctor delivers a substantial portion of the living child outside his mother's body --- the entire head in a head-first delivery or the trunk past the navel in a feet-first delivery --- then kills the child by crushing his skull or removing his brain by suction. 

Why would anyone use this procedure?

Some abortion doctors use PBA in the middle and last months of pregnancy, when dismembering a child becomes more difficult due to the child's stronger bones and ligaments.  After the mother undergoes two to three days of cervical dilation (increasing her risk of infection and subsequent preterm births), the doctor in minutes can partially deliver the child "intact" before killing him or her and completing delivery.  In the more commonly used dismemberment method, the mother's cervix is dilated manually only enough to remove the child's severed body parts; dismemberment and removal takes the doctor longer to complete. 

Does Roe v. Wade protect an abortion method as extreme as PBA?

In Carhart I the Supreme Court treated PBA as just another method of abortion, largely ignoring the fact the the child is almost completely delivered when he or she is killed.  Yet even when the Court struck down Texas's abortion statute in Roe, it had left standing a provision of Texas law that prohibited killing a child in the process of being delivered. 

Why was a ban on this procedure needed?  Don't most states already have laws against late-term abortions?

Such laws exist in most states but they generally have two deficiencies.  First, they apply only after "viability" --- when the child if delivered could survive indefinitely outside the womb --- and PBA is used to kill mostly-delivered children before this stage.  Second, as required by Roe and Casey, even laws restricting abortion after viability allow abortion when it is deemed necessary to preserve the mother's "health" and "heath" was defined in Roe's companion case Doe v. Bolton to include "all factors" --- emotional, familial, age, and so on --- related to "well-being."  This "heath" loophole allows abortions to be performed on request during all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason.

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Legal Briefs

  • Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General v. Leroy Carhart, et. al, May 22, 2006, (Press Release)  
  • Comments on Partial-Birth Abortion by U.S. Appeals Court, January 31, 2006
  • Don Stenberg, Attorney General of the State of Nebraska, et. al. v. Leroy Carhart, M.D., February 24, 2000
  • Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, original transcripts from federal trials

Testimony and Letters