It appears that the substantial majority of partial-birth abortions are performed late in the second trimester -- that is, before the 27-week mark -- but usually after 20 weeks (4 1/2 months). There is compelling evidence that the overwhelming majority of these pre-week-27 partial-birth abortions are performed for purely "social" reasons.
In an attempt to "filter out" this documentation, many opponents of the bill attempt to narrow the debate to only third-trimester partial-birth abortions procedures -- that is, to abortions performed beginning in the 27th week [seventh month] of pregnancy. Some journalists and commentators have readily adopted this "filter." However, there is really no non-ideological justification for adopting this "third trimester" demarcation. It has no basis in the text of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (HR 1833), which bans partial-birth abortion at any point in pregnancy. Nor, contrary to some popular misconceptions, is there any basis in current Supreme Court constitutional doctrine or in neo-natal medical practice for adopting a "third trimester" demarcation.
Under the Supreme Court's doctrine, "viability" is regarded as the constitutionally significant demarcation. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court explicitly disavowed the "trimester framework" of Roe v. Wade (1973), and reaffirmed that "viability" is (in the Court's view) the constitutionally significant demarcation. "Viability" is the point at which a baby born prematurely can be sustained by good medical assistance. Currently, many babies are "viable" a full three weeks before the "third trimester." Therefore, most partial-birth abortions kill babies who are already "viable," or who are at most a few days or weeks short of viability.
(Even at 20 weeks, the baby is seven inches long on average. And, as discussed below, at a March 21 congressional hearing leading medical authorities testified that the baby by this point is very sensitive to painful stimuli.)
At least one partial-birth abortion specialist, the late Dr. James McMahon, regularly performed the procedure even after 26 weeks-- even into the ninth month. In 1995, Dr. McMahon submitted to the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee a graph and explanation that explicitly showed that he aborted healthy ("not flawed") babies even in the third trimester (after 26 weeks of pregnancy). Dr. McMahon's own graph showed, for example, that at 29 or 30 weeks, one-fourth of the aborted babies had no "flaw" however slight. Underneath the graph, Dr. McMahon offered this explanation:
After 26 weeks, those pregnancies that are not flawed are still non-elective. They are interrupted because of maternal risk, rape, incest, psychiatric or pediatric indications. [chart and caption reproduced in June 15 hearing record, page 109]
In an interview with Constitution Subcommittee Counsel Keri Harrison,
Dr. McMahon explained that "pediatric indication" referred to underage mothers,
not to any medical condition of the mother or the baby.
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