Opening Statement of NRLC’s Douglas Johnson
Before Joint Congressional Hearing
What Is At Stake in the Partial-Birth Abortion Debate
[On March 11, 1997, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee conducted an unusual joint hearing titled, “Partial-Birth Abortion: The Truth,” chaired by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Il.), in conjunction with Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Charles Canady (R-Fl.), who is the author of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
[The hearing, which was broadcast on C-SPAN, ran for more than five hours. Most of this time was devoted to testimony from leaders of four major pro-abortion groups and two pro-life spokespersons: Helen Alvare of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and NRLC Federal Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. The opening statement by Johnson appears below, in a slightly edited form.
[Note: the text of Johnson’s much more lengthy written testimony, which discusses in detail many of the issues surrounding partial-birth abortion, is available in its entirety elsewhere on the NRLC homepage. The documentation submitted with that testimony may be obtained by writing to the NRLC Federal Legislative Office, 419-Seventh Street, Northwest, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20004.]
Chairman Hatch, Chairman Hyde, Chairman Canady, and distinguished members of the Judiciary committees, I thank you for this opportunity to present the views of the National Right to Life Committee on the subject of partial-birth abortions. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is a federation of state right-to-life organizations, and is the nation’s largest organization devoted entirely to the defending the right to life of all members of the human family from the lethal threats of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.
Since Congressman Canady first authored and introduced the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in June, 1995, NRLC has been in the forefront of the coalition of organizations that have worked to enact it. We are delighted that the House will vote on this measure next week.
The Clinton-Daschle Phony Ban
NRLC is strongly opposed to the “phony ban” currently being promoted by President Clinton, by Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), and by certain of their allies in the media — notably the Boston Globe in a story on March 7.
The Clinton-Daschle proposal is an empty shell. It is a purely political contrivance. It has one purpose: to provide political cover for lawmakers who want to appear to their constituents to have voted to restrict partial-birth abortions, but without in any way offending the extreme pro-abortion lobby.
The Clinton-Daschle proposal designed to look good on paper, and to fool unwary journalists, but in no way to impose the slightest actual impediment to the unfettered ability of abortionists to perform these procedures.
Before last year’s election, and again at his televised December 13 press conference, President Clinton told the American people that he would sign this bill — the bill that he vetoed — if an exception were added to cover cases in which he asserts, contrary to medical authorities, that this procedure is necessary to prevent serious injury to the mother. For the most part the media continue to report that Mr. Clinton will sign this bill if some kind of a narrow “health” exception is added. But when they so report, they are being taken in by a deception.
President Clinton’s agents have clearly communicated through other channels that Mr. Clinton will not sign this bill, even if a “health exception” is added (which we oppose), unless it is also radically altered in a second way — specifically, unless it is limited to the third trimester.
As we have long emphasized, the vast majority of partial-birth abortions — surely over 90% — are not performed in the third trimester, but rather, in the fifth and sixth months, on healthy babies of healthy mothers — as Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers acknowledged just two weeks ago. This means that under the Clinton-Daschle phony ban, the 4,000 or more partial-birth abortions performed on healthy babies of healthy mothers, in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy, will continue with no limitation at all.
Moreover, the Clinton-Daschle proposal would allow partial-birth abortions to continue even in the final three months of pregnancy whenever an abortionist unilaterally asserts that this would enhance the mother’s chance of future childbearing, or whenever he asserts that the baby does not meet his idiosyncratic definition of “viability.”
President Clinton and his allies are counting on the news media to continue to show the superficiality that so many in the press displayed during earlier stages of this debate. That would allow the White House to market this cosmetic measure as a “compromise,” thereby providing political cover.
[Note: For further information on the Clinton-Daschle phony ban, see “Watch What He’s Doing, Not What He Says: How President Clinton Is Having It Both Ways on Partial-Birth Abortion.”]
NRLC Consistent and Accurate
We have submitted what we believe to be a complete set of NRLC’s press releases, factsheets, media background papers, and letters to Congress on this issue, going back to the introduction of this legislation in June, 1995. We welcome scrutiny of this material.
Pro-abortion groups have alleged that the line drawings of the partial-birth abortion procedure, which NRLC has used since 1993, show “full-term” babies. This claim was repeated by syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman just last week.
Yet, the falsity of this claim can easily be ascertained by anybody with a ruler. The baby shown in those drawings is 8 to 10 inches long, as shown by the scale of the abortionist’s hand. That is the length of the unborn human being, during the 20- to 24-week period, as shown in charts in obstetrical textbooks, one of which I have attached to my written testimony. This is the period when the majority of partial-birth abortions are performed.
This medical model that I hold in my hand is the same model that NRLC has displayed since the day this bill was introduced in 1995, at press conferences and congressional hearings, among other places. It is a medically accurate representation of the average human being at 20 weeks. The human beings killed in partial-birth abortions are no smaller than this — and many are much larger.
This seven-inch surgical scissors that I am holding up is the Metzenbaum surgical scissors specified in Dr. Martin Haskell’s 1992 paper explaining how to perform this method of abortion. That paper describes how this instrument is used to pierce the skull of a mostly delivered human being.
We have not implied or suggested that partial-birth abortions are mostly third-trimester procedures. Indeed, we have vigorously disputed that claim ever since the press started reporting it — and they reported it because the abortion lobby was making that claim.
But Is This Really a Partial Birth?
The term “partial-birth” is legally perfectly accurate. As a matter of law, in every state, if a baby emerges completely from the uterus, and shows even the briefest signs of life, legally a live birth has occurred. That is true regardless of whether or not the baby has yet reached the stage where she can survive independently of the mother, which is as early as 23 weeks with current neonatal care.
Moreover, even under the doctrine of the Supreme Court, that living just-delivered baby, no matter how premature, is a person under the Constitution.
Obstetricians and perinatologists confirm that even during the 20 to 23-week range, if a baby is expelled or removed completely from the uterus, she will usually gasp for breath for some time, even though her lung development is still insufficient to permit successful sustained respiration before 23 weeks. So the victim of a partial-birth abortion is indeed only “inches from her first breath” when the surgical scissors penetrates her skull — just as we have said.
Even at 20 to 23 weeks, there will be movements and a heartbeat after the child is expelled — sometimes for an hour or more — at this so-called “pre-viability” stage, as the infant struggles to hold on to life, as you can confirm by talking to perinatologists.
Even at 23 weeks, the baby now has between a one-in-four and a one-in-three chance of survival, and the survival rate curves sharply upward week by week after that.
Thus, each individual member of the human family killed in a partial-birth abortion is at most a few weeks short of the point at which she could survive to live a full lifespan of experiences as wondrous and varied as those of anyone here today, or anyone who views this hearing. Many of the victims of partial-birth abortion are actually past the point at which they could survive in our nation’s neonatal units.
The “Line of Personhood”
A partial-birth abortion is really a lethal adaptation of a long-known procedure for delivering babies, feet first, in certain unusual circumstances. But when used as an abortion method, the abortionist must take care that he does not dilate the cervix a little too much, because if he did so, the head could slip across the Supreme Court’s constitutional “line of personhood.” That must not happen until after the surgical scissors and the suction machine have done their deadly work.
But if we step back for a moment from the Supreme Court’s doctrine, we all really know– don’t we?– that it is the same little girl or boy whether or not she or he has traveled that extra three inches.
As they now are, we each once were.
What is at Stake In This Debate
Mr. Chairman, I close with this observation: Few are the men or women who, on reflection, would disagree with the following statement:
“If my individual life had been cut off before birth, whether by accident or otherwise, no other human being could ever have become the unique individual who I am — not even another child born later to the same parents.”
You see, to each person, his or her own intrinsic uniqueness, his or her own unrepeatable “personhood,” and its great value, are really self-evident. Those of us who hold the right-to-life position simply recognize that the same applies to the individual unborn or partly born human beings whom we seek to protect.
Regardless of how many of these abortions actually occur, not one of the victims is disposable, and not one is interchangeable with anyone else who ever came before or who will ever come after.
We need to remember that “birth” and “full-term” are two very different things. My own youngest son Thomas, who is here with my wife Carolyn today, was born 13 weeks before full term. He weighed only one pound, 12 ounces.
After his delivery — by emergency Caesarian section — as he lay fighting for his life in the intensive care neonatal nursery, he looked as small and hairless as “a skinned squirrel,” as my father, a Wisconsin outdoorsman, said later.
But that same “fetus,” born so terribly pre-maturely, now runs to hug me when I return home from work. He likes to engage in all manner of wordplay. He embraces every aspect of life with insatiable curiosity and relentless enthusiasm.
He is one of a kind.
But so are they all.