Partial Birth Abortion: Where Does America Stand?

Article ID: DA021 | By: Scott Klusendorf

The following is an excerpt of Scott Klusendorf’s article “The Vanishing Pro-Life Apologist.” This piece was excerpted particularly for its stance on Partial Birth Abortion.


We can win if we force abortion advocates to defend killing babies. The national debate over partial-birth abortion (PBA) is a case in point. Though President Clinton has twice vetoed legislation banning the procedure, the debate has helped pro-lifers in at least five ways.

First, public opinion has shifted modestly in our favor. Although Swope disputes that this has anything to do with PBA, the evidence is compelling.18 Since the partial-birth issue was first raised in 1995, the percentage of those who think abortion should be legal under any circumstances has dropped on average from 33 percent to 22 percent.19 The trend among women 18 and over is also encouraging. According to a 1999 study by The Center for Gender Equity, more women oppose abortion than support it. Fifty-three percent now say abortion should be illegal altogether or allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother’s life.20 That’s an eight-percent shift away from abortion rights compared to a poll taken two years prior.

Why the shift? For the first time in 25 years, the debate is about the abortion act itself and how it affects the unborn.21 “When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say ‘choice’ and we lose,” writes Naomi Wolf.22

At a National Abortion Federation meeting in 1996, Kathryn Kohlbert cautioned delegates that if the debate over partial-birth abortion focuses on what happens to the unborn, their side will get “creamed.” She urged focusing exclusively on the woman:

If the debate is whether or not the fetus feels pain, we lose. If the debate in the public arena is what’s the effect of anesthesia. [on the fetus], we’ll lose. If the debate is on whether or not women ought to be entitled to late abortion, we will probably lose. But if the debate is on the circumstances of individual women, and [how] the government shouldn’t be making those decisions, then I think we can win these fights.23

We have yet to convince many of the inhumanity of abortion in the first trimester. But graphic depictions of abortion have put our opponents on the defensive.

Second, the shift in public opinion has led to legislative progress. Despite recent setbacks in the states of Washington and Colorado, where ballot initiatives banning PBA suffered narrow defeats, the trend has been remarkably positive for the pro-life movement. For instance, New Jersey legislators — including many liberal Democrats — are supporting limits on abortion. According to The New York Times, the New Jersey experience is typical of the national trend where 31 states have now passed measures restricting access to abortion. Pro-lifers are forcing liberals to defend the abortion act itself. In New Jersey; lawmakers were actually shown videos of abortion procedures prior to a committee vote on PBA.24

Mary Balch, director of the National Right to Life State Legislative Department, explains her success with liberal lawmakers: “All we had done was to say to them, ‘Pro-abortionists support removing a large, living unborn baby almost entirely from her mother’s womb, stabbing her in the head with scissors, and sucking out her brains. Are you willing to support that?”25

Swope replies that his strategy does not necessarily apply to legislative or political change, but only to reaching the general public. This misses the point entirely. Politicians will restrict abortion precisely because public opinion demands it. Most legislators, especially those who are pro-abortion, are not going to support pro-life legislation in the absence of intense pressure from constituents. What changed the minds of constituents in this case was not concern for the self-interest of women, but the brutal reality of abortion.

Third, both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology have issued reports condemning partial-birth abortion.26 The AMA has gone even further, stating that late-term abortions are rarely, if ever, needed to save the mother’s life or physical health.27 Though abortion advocates within the AMA have protested that the reports were politically motivated, they’ve presented no evidence to challenge the fact that partial-birth abortion procedures are nearly always performed on healthy women carrying healthy babies. Both organizations have a history of supporting abortion-on-demand, yet the debate over PBA forced each to issue statements questioning the morality of some abortions.

Fourth, PBA legislation has raised the issue of fetal pain, further calling into question the morality of abortion. An editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association states, “It is beyond ironic that the pain management practiced for an intact D&X on a human fetus would not meet the federal standards for the humane care of animals used in medical research.”28 Other medical journals have raised similar concerns.29

Fifth, the PBA debate has undermined the credibility of abortion advocates in general. Simply put they were caught lying, and even their staunchest supporters in the media felt cheated. Pro-abortion columnist Richard Cohen writes, “I was led to believe that these late-term abortions were extremely rare and performed only when the life of the mother was in danger or the fetus irreparably deformed. I was wrong.”30 A short time later, Ron Fitzimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted that he and others intentionally lied to the public when they said only four-hundred of these grisly procedures were done each year. He confessed that thousands of these procedures are performed annually on perfectly healthy mothers carrying perfectly healthy babies.31

The partial birth debate damaged the pro-abortion side because it focused on what abortion does to the unborn. Pro-lifers did two things right. First, we forced abortion advocates to defend the indefensible. Second, we marshaled factual evidence to show that our opponents were lying. That’s the essence of effective pro-life apologetics as we approach the twenty-first century.


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