Why Are Partial-Birth Abortions Performed?

On the ABC television show This Week on November 24, columnist George Will suggested that there is a close relationship between reported cases involving the murder of newborns, such as a case in Delaware that recently received national media coverage, and society's tolerance of practices such as partial-birth abortion.
In response, ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson asserted:

First of all, there's no evidence that this couple [in Delaware] would have been able to have a partial-birth abortion. That is an operation, George, as you may know, that's used very rarely because of the life of the mother being jeopardized or some other rare circumstance.

Unfortunately, Mr. Donaldson's assertion-- like similar statements by many other journalists-- cannot be reconciled with the statements of doctors who have themselves performed thousands of partial-birth abortions.

For example, the Record of Bergen County, New Jersey on September 15 published an investigative report by "women's issues" staff writer (and Columbia journalism professor) Ruth Padawer, who found that at a single abortion clinic in Englewood, New Jersey-- only a few miles away from the homes of the young couple in question- doctors acknowledged that they perform over 1,500 partial-birth abortions a year. Moreover, the story quotes doctors at the clinic as stating that "only a 'minuscule amount' are for medical reasons." The Record reported:

"We have an occasional amnio abnormality, but it's a minuscule amount," said one of the doctors at Metropolitan Medical, an assessment confirmed by another doctor there. "Most are Medicaid patients, black and white, and most are for elective, not medical, reasons: people who didn't realize, or didn't care, how far along they were. Most are teenagers."

The September 17 edition of the Washington Post contained the results of an investigation conducted by staff writers Barbara Vobejda and David M. Brown, M.D., who interviewed several abortionists (not those in New Jersey), and concluded:

It is possible-- and maybe even likely-- that the majority of these [partial-birth] abortions are performed on normal fetuses, not on fetuses suffering genetic or other developmental abnormalities. Furthermore, in most cases where the procedure is used, the physical health of the woman whose pregnancy is being terminated is not in jeopardy.... Instead, the "typical" patients tend to be young, low-income women, often poorly educated or naive, whose reasons for waiting so long to end their pregnancies are rarely medical.

Dr. Martin Haskell of Dayton, Ohio, has performed over 1,000 partial-birth abortions. In a tape-recorded interview, Dr. Haskell told American Medical News, "I'll be quite frank: most of my abortions are elective in that 20-24 week range. . . . In my particular case, probably 20% are for genetic reasons. And the other 80% are purely elective."

Dr. Haskell also wrote a paper in which he said he uses the method "routinely" in his walk-in abortion clinic, adding, "Among its advantages are that it is a quick, surgical outpatient method that can be performed on a scheduled basis under local anesthesia."

The late Dr. James McMahon of Los Angeles developed the partial-birth technique, and used it thousands of times. In a written submission to the House Judiciary Committee in 1995, he admitted using the method even during the final three months of pregnancy on babies with no "flaw," for such reasons as mere youth of the mother, or "psychiatric" difficulties.

In an interview with American Medical News, Dr. McMahon explained that "after 20 weeks where it frankly is a child to me, I really agonize over it," but added, "Who owns the child? It's got to be the mother."

In short, anyone who will set aside wishful thinking and the manufactured claims of abortion-industry lobbyists, and examine documentation as such as that cited above-- and there is much more of the same sort-- can only conclude that the overwhelming majority of these late-term procedures are performed for entirely non-medical, "personal" reasons. A small subset of partial-birth abortions involve babies with severe abnormalities, but medical specialists regularly deliver such babies alive, usually vaginally, without jeopardy to their mothers. In September over 300 physician-specialists--including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop-- issued a statement "partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to protect a mother's health or her future fertility."

For copies of the documents cited above or additional information, please contact the Federal Legislative Office of the National Right to Life Committee, (202) 626-8820, fax (202) 347-3668.

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