President Clinton and pro-abortion advocacy groups have made strenuous efforts to persuade the public that partial-birth abortions are necessary to protect the lives or health of pregnant women, and many journalists have uncritically accepted this claim at face value. However, these claims are coming under increasingly sharp challenge from prestigious medical experts, and from women who have given birth to babies in circumstances such as those cited by President Clinton.
The sort of cases highlighted by President Clinton-- third-trimester abortions of babies with disorders incompatible with sustained life outside the womb-- account for a small fraction of all the partial-birth abortions. Confronted with identical cases, most specialists would never consider executing a breech extraction and puncturing the skull. Instead, most would deliver the baby alive, sometimes early, without jeopardy to the mother-- usually vaginally-- and make the baby as comfortable as possible for whatever time the child has allotted to her.
In an interview published in the August 19 edition of American Medical News, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said, "I believe that Mr. Clinton was misled by his medical advisors on what is fact and what is fiction in reference to late-term abortions. Because in no way can I twist my mind to see that the late-term abortions as described-- you know, partial birth, and then destruction of the unborn child before the head is born-- is a medical necessity for the mother. It certainly can't be a necessity for the baby."
Dr. Koop, a world-renown pediatric surgeon, was asked by the American Medical News reporters whether he had ever "treated children with any of the disabilities cited in this debate? For example, have you operated on children born with organs outside of their bodies?" Dr. Koop replied, "Oh, yes indeed. I've done that many times. The prognosis usually is good. There are two common ways that children are born with organs outside of their body. One is an omphalocele, where the organs are out but still contained in the sac... the first child I ever did, with a huge omphalocele much bigger than her head, went on to develop well and become the head nurse in my intensive care unit many years later."
In addition, in the summer of 1996, an organization called Physicians' Ad Hoc Coalition for Truth (PHACT) began circulating material directly challenging President Clinton's claims. As of early September, PHACT reportedly consisted of over 230 physicians, mostly professors and other specialists in obstetrics, gynecology, and fetal medicine. In an advertisement published in August, the PHACT physicians said:
Congress, the public-- but most importantly women-- need to know that partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to protect a mother's health or her future fertility.
The PHACT doctors also referred directly to the specific medical conditions that affected some of the women who appeared with President Clinton at his April 10 veto ceremony, such as hydrocephalus (excessive fluid in the head), and commented:
At a July 24 briefing on Capitol Hill, PHACT member Dr. Curtis Cook, an ob/gyn perinatologist with the West Michigan Perinatal and Genetic Diagnostic Center, said that partial-birth abortion:
is never necessary to preserve the life or the fertility of the mother, and may in fact threaten her health or well-being or future fertility. In my practice, I see these rare, unusual cases that come to most generalists' offices once in a lifetime-- they all come into our office. We see these every day....The presence of fetal disabilities or fetal anomalies are not a reason to have a termination of pregnancy to preserve the life of the mother-- they do not threaten the life of the mother in any way....[and] where these rare instances do occur, they do not require the death of the baby or the fetus prior to the completion of the delivery.
Also present at the July 24 briefing were several women who, while pregnant, had learned that their unborn babies were afflicted with conditions similar or identical to those cited by President Clinton, but who gave birth to their babies alive. One of the women, Jeannie French of Oak Park, Illinois, distributed a July 17 letter that she and several other women sent to President Clinton, asking for a meeting so that he could learn about the medical alternatives to partial-birth abortion. Ms. French wrote:
In recent months, I have had the opportunity to get to know many women who've carried and given birth to children with fatal conditions from anacephaly, encepaloceles, Trisomy 18, hydrocephaly, and even a rare disease called body stalk anomaly, in which internal organs develop outside a baby's body. We gave birth to our children knowing that their serious physical disabilities might not allow them to live long.... You say that partial-birth abortion has to be legal for cases like ours, because women's bodies would be 'ripped to shreds' by carrying their very sick children to term. By your repeated statements, you imply that partial-birth abortion is the only or the most desirable response to children suffering severe disabilities like our children... This message is so wrong!... Will you meet with us personally, and hear our stories?
Ms. French got a brief letter of response from two White House scheduling aides, who said that "the tremendous demands on the President will not give him the opportunity to speak with you and your group.... Your continued interest and support are deeply appreciated."
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