Friday, November 03, 2006

"Partial-Birth" Abortion: Fantasy Fanatics vs. Physicians

Compare and contrast!

Politicians issue dogmatic pronouncements about nonexistent medical procedures, and judges decide their validity:

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in two cases challenging the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, passed by Congress in 2003. A key part of the case for the ban's supporters is a congressional finding that the specific procedure described in the law is dangerous and never medically necessary.


This isn't the first time the Supreme Court has considered a ban on the procedure that lawmakers call partial-birth abortion. Six years ago, on a 5 to 4 ruling, the justices struck down a ban passed by the Nebraska legislature. The majority said, among other things, that the law needed an exception allowing the procedure to be used not just to preserve the pregnant woman's life, but also her health.

That put sponsors of a similar federal ban, like Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), in a quandary. Adding a health exception was not something Chabot was willing to do.


Sponsors ultimately settled on a strategy they hoped would overcome the court's objections without adding a health exception.


Instead, the law includes a series of declarations, known as "findings." Among the findings: The procedure is unrecognized by the mainstream medical community; there have been no articles published in peer-reviewed journals that establish the procedure is superior to other abortion procedures; and the procedure threatens the pregnant woman's health.

Physicians conduct studies (and follow-up studies) about actual medical procedures:

Like most of the medical community, Chasen [heads the high-risk obstetrics unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital] says there's no such thing medically as a "partial-birth" abortion.


Chasen is a plaintiff in one of the three lawsuits challenging the ban. He's also the lead author of a study published in 2004 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which compared several hundred second-trimester abortions using both the traditional D&E method and the intact version. And he says that, contrary to the congressional declaration, the study showed the intact version of the procedure was not more dangerous.

"We basically found that the complication rates were similar between the two groups. The only severe complications we experienced in fact, were in what people would call the traditional D&E group, not the intact variation," Chasen said.

That study, however, did raise the question of whether women having the variation in which the fetus is basically removed intact would be more likely to deliver prematurely in a subsequent pregnancy. So Chasen and his colleagues did another study, published in the same journal in 2005. And they found it did not.

"We found that using whichever variant of D&E had no relation to subsequent births and [the procedure] wasn't associated with pre-term birth," he said.

Chasen also disputes another of the congressional findings: that the procedure is not taught in U.S. medical schools.

"I learned it here at an Ivy League medical school where I teach it. My other plaintiffs and experts testifying in these cases come from some of the top hospitals in the U.S., and are on the faculties of some of the top medical schools," Chasen says.

Finally, esteemed legislators, when confronted with reality, chose the la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you route:

But Rep. Chabot, the sponsor of the law, says that doesn't make it right.

"This is a procedure that shouldn't be taught," Chabot says, because it's barbaric and gruesome and inhumane and we hope in the very near future is illegal."

Remind me again, when it comes to female patients of reproductive age, why are politicians, lawyers, and judges the ones making the medical decisions, instead of the actual patients, in consultation with their loved ones and their physicians? Also, why are declarations--with no basis in medical science (not to mention reality)--made by politicians used to enact laws governing the medical care of female patients? And, most importantly, please tell me why have our political and judicial Overlords decreed that *the* test of validity for these laws is the presence or absence of an exception for the patient's life or health?

At what point exactly has it become unacceptable for this society to allow female patients to receive proper medical care just because they need it?


At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Tyler LePard said...

What a great post! I appreciate your analysis of the "I-can't-hear-you-la-la-la" reasoning of the politicians behind the fedederal abortion ban. We have a special series on this issue at RH Reality Check that I would encourage you to check out. It's important to consider the personal stories (women who have had to have late-term abortions to protect their health and the doctors who provide safe medical procedures), as well as the conservative ideology influencing medicine, science, and policy.

Thank you for your great work! Ema, please feel free to contact me:


Associate Editor, RH Reality Check (


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