The Big Lie About Partial-Birth Abortion

by Cathleen A. Cleaver, Esq.

June 6, 2003

A recent Newsweek cover story gave goosebumps to the now half of all Americans who call themselves pro-life — and no doubt chills down the spine of the staff at Planned Parenthood. "Should A Fetus Have Rights?" the cover asks, above a color photograph of an unborn baby. Inside, beautiful 3-D ultrasound images of the various stages of pregnancy speak volumes, but so do the testimony of parents who were faced with pressure to abort and decided against it.

The language of the article is heavy on "fetus" and light on "baby" — I always chuckle when a friend of mine says, "That was before Roe, when Americans used to speak English rather than Latin!" — but most agree it was an overwhelmingly positive article from the pro-life perspective.

There is, however, a whopping error on the first page. The caption accompanying the photo of an unborn child at week 23 reads, "After this week, partial-birth abortion is banned in 40 states." In fact, currently there are no enforceable bans on the partial-birth abortion procedure in the United States. That is because the Supreme Court in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) struck down Nebraska's law against partial-birth abortion, citing Roe v. Wade. Thereby all 31 similar laws throughout the country were rendered unenforceable.

What's more, partial-birth abortions are typically done both before and after the 23rd week of gestation. According to the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, the "vast majority" of these abortions are done in the 5th and 6th months, which is 20-26 weeks gestation, on healthy mothers with healthy babies.

Those are the facts, from a source that should know. But the facts did not appear in the recent speeches of those members of the House of Representatives who fought, in vain, against passage of a ban on Partial-Birth Abortion.

The Big Lie about Partial-Birth Abortion claims that it is sometimes necessary to preserve a woman's "health," and so any ban on this procedure must include a health exception. "Health," when used in the context of abortion, is a very powerful, poisonous word. Health, as defined by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Doe v. Bolton decision is "all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age — relevant to [her] well-being." The health exception is the quintessential exception that swallows the rule — so broad that you could drive a truck, or a fully-formed unborn baby, right through it.

The new ban on partial-birth abortion that has now passed both houses of Congress and is on its way to the President's desk for signature is replete with findings of fact that expose the Big Lie. Numerous authorities, including ob/gyns and perinatolgists, have testified before Congress that this procedure is never medically necessary, and the American Medical Association has said that it "is not good medicine." LeRoy Carhart, the late-term abortionist of the infamous Stenberg v. Carhart decision, has admitted that his decision to use the partial-birth abortion method is not governed by maternal health concerns, but by happenstance – whether he happens to find the child in a "breech" or transverse position. And Warren Hern, also a late-term abortionist and author of the most widely-used abortion textbook, has said that he "would dispute that [partial-birth abortion] is the safest method to use."

When the partial-birth abortion bill becomes law, abortion advocates will file suit and their documents will be riddled with the Big Lie. Let us pray that judges will be able to see the truth.

Cathleen Cleaver, Esq. is the director of planning and information for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.