by Peter D. Williams
By this time next week, we will know who will be the next President of the United States of America. I’m surely not alone in being thoroughly tired of what has been a thoroughly depressing contest. Both Trump and Clinton (no, not ‘Hillary’ – she’s not your mate) are in different ways such appalling candidates, that it’s been difficult to get excited about U.S. politics even for those of us who are usually very geeky about the subject.
Nonetheless, for right-to-lifers, the U.S. Presidential Election has at least been somewhat interesting for the way it has led to some wider debate about abortion. Just as comments by Trump in August led to an international discussion about criminal penalties for abortion, so an exchange only two weeks ago between him and Clinton in their last Presidential Debate has led to heated contention about the nature and legality of ‘partial birth’ abortion. You can see video of this, courtesy of the Washington Post, below:
To British ears, the very phrase ‘partial birth abortion’ is unfamiliar, and sounds as bizarre as it is horrifying. The reality is both those things, but to properly understand it, and how it relates to the UK, we need to get the background.
In America, as in other jurisdictions like Canada, abortion is legal not due to democratic debate and legislation, but decisions made in the courts. The issue of legality has been exclusively decided by judicial activism, rather than laws passed by the elected legislature (i.e. the federal Houses of Congress or equivalent state Parliaments).
The U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous cases of Doe v. Bolton and Roe v. Wade in 1973, effectively struck down any legal limitation on abortion in the United States by finding that access to it was constitutionally guaranteed as part of a general ‘right to privacy’, whilst at the same time refusing to take any position on the humanity of the unborn child. It also balanced this however, with the right it admitted of the Government to protect the health of women and ‘potential’ human life.
As a consequence, abortion was legalised on demand for any reason in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, and allowed on the grounds of threats to a mother’s life and health in the third trimester. This was only lowered in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which, in a way analogous to legal changes in the U.K. about the same time, lowered the ‘upper limit’ of abortion on demand to 23-24 weeks, whenever a baby might be deemed to be ‘viable’.
These limitations notwithstanding, abortion-on-demand is the practical reality in America even at later stages of pregnancy, and for similar reasons why this is so at earlier stages of pregnancy in Britain: As already mentioned, abortion was permitted in the third trimester where there is a threat to the mother’s life and health. Not only is the definition of ‘health’ expansive however (including “physical, emotional, psychological, [and] familial” according to the ruling in Doe v. Bolton), but no legal procedural requirement was made for medical evidence to be provided of the existence of a health ‘threat’, for the avoidance of which abortion would be ostensibly necessary.
Just, then, as section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act 1967 (‘Ground C’, which allows for abortion the basis of a risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the mother) enables and covers for de facto abortion on demand in the U.K., regardless of the will of Parliament to only allow abortion in limited circumstances, so the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have bypassed democratic Government entirely, and imposed a legal framework in which the ultimate aim of the abortion lobby – ‘decriminalisation’, abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth – has become the de facto reality in America for almost half-a-century.
This enabled the object of controversy between Trump and Clinton: the reality and possibility of ‘partial birth abortion’. Since abortion is available up to birth in America, a procedure known as ‘Intact Dilation and Extraction’ (AKA ‘D&X’) was developed and practised. This involves quite shockingly killing a baby in partum (that is, whilst she is being born, but before she is entirely out of her mother’s birth canal). As NPR reports in an article that is almost entirely fairly written and accurate:
‘Two abortion physicians, one in Ohio and one in California, independently developed variations on the method by extracting the fetus intact. The Ohio physician, Martin Haskell, called his method “dilation and extraction” or D&X. It involved dilating the woman’s cervix, then pulling the fetus through it feet first until only the head remained inside. Using scissors or another sharp instrument, the head was then punctured, and the skull compressed, so it, too, could fit through the dilated cervix’.
Yes, you read that rightly. D&X involves delivering a baby feet-first (who would likely survive at such a late point in pregnancy), and then crushing her skull (what is known as a ‘craniotomy’) before she can be completely born.
Other variations on this technique also involve killing the baby before the craniotomy through engaging in ‘feticide’, a clinical term that refers to the causing of a baby to suffer a heart-attack through digoxin being injected into the amniotic fluid, or potassium chloride injected into the baby’s heart. These cause a fetal heart-attack because the electric charge they possess disrupts the electrical conduction of the heart muscle, preventing her cells from preparing for their next contraction. This means that the baby’s heart is forced to stop beating, causing her death. This has been part of the same means by which criminals are executed through lethal injection in U.S. death penalty executions. You can see an accurate video presentation on the American practice, here:
Indeed, feticide is not restricted to the U.S., but is also used for later abortions here in Britain (except that in British abortion practice, the injection of potassium chloride into the fetal heart is used exclusively, rather than digoxin).
According to the latest Department of Health abortion statistics (section 2.47), of the 1,284 abortions performed at 22 weeks and over in 2015: 44% were reported as preceded by a feticide and a further 52% were performed by a method whereby the fetal heart is stopped as part of the procedure. Indeed, only 4% of abortions at 22 weeks or beyond were confirmed as having no feticide. In 2012, the medical director of BPAS, Patricia Lohr, reported in their house journal the ‘Abortion Review’ (which has since been re-named the ‘Reproductive Review’), that:
‘At BPAS, we routinely perform intra-cardiac potassium chloride injections before D&E at 22+0 weeks and greater’.
The reason why feticide is used is two-fold: in order to prevent the baby from being born alive, and to make surgical abortions easier to perform.
As the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says in their abortion guidelines (pg. 57):
‘… in cases where the fetal abnormality is not lethal or the abortion is not for fetal abnormality and is being undertaken after 21 weeks and 6 days of gestation, failure to perform feticide could result in a live birth and survival, which contradicts the intention of the abortion”. Recommendation 6.21 of the Guidelines is thus that “Feticide should be performed before medical abortion after 21 weeks and 6 days of gestation to ensure that there is no risk of a live birth’.
Moreover, after 18 weeks, ‘feticide’ will often precede D&E in order to make dismembering the baby’s body easier. In a 2008 ‘Abortion Review’ piece on feticide, Lohr reported that:
‘The gestational age at which feticide is employed before D&E differs among practitioners, but it is typically reserved for terminations above 18 weeks’ gestation. The softening of bone that occurs after fetal demise is proposed to reduce the amount of cervical dilation necessary and to make the procedure easier and faster, thus reducing the risk of complications’.
By ‘D&E’, Lohr is referring to ‘Dilation and Evacuation’, the only other procedure that takes place in later stages of pregnancy in both American and British practice. This is when instead of removing the baby’s body intact, the cervix is dilated and forceps with sharp metal jaws are used to grasp parts of the developing unborn child, which are then twisted and torn away. The use of strong forceps (rather than the powerful suction catheter used in earlier second trimester abortions) is necessary because the bones and skull of the baby are calcified at later stages of pregnancy, and thus more difficult to dismember. Again, a good video presentation on this can be found here:
It might have been D&E that Trump, is his usual confused and carelessly cack-handed clumsiness, was trying to refer to when he described a late term abortion that will “rip the baby out of the womb” at nine months. That this would be an obstetrically inaccurate description of D&X was jumped upon by a number of abortion lobbyists, but this is hardly a great defence from those who defend the legality of what is nonetheless an explicitly barbaric, brutal, and explicitly infanticidal procedure.
Even without the more naked horror of D&X, what I have described above is what constitutes late-stage abortion both sides of the Atlantic. In order to prevent a live baby being born, and to make the destruction of her body easier, abortionists in the U.S. and the U.K. routinely kill her by giving her a lethal heart-attack, before removing her body intact or in pieces at late stages in pregnancy. Indeed, this is actually recommended by the RCOG, the Royal College governing this area of medicine in Britain.
This is all horrifying, gruesome stuff, and in the case of intact D&X through craniotomy, the abortion procedure most fairly obviously tantamount to outright infanticide. After all, the only thing not making legally infanticide is that before being crushed, the head of the baby is still in her mother’s vagina! This is so much so, in fact, that it became the only abortion procedure outlawed by the U.S. Congress through the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act 2003. This was, inevitably, legally challenged by abortion lobby ideologues who could not countenance even this small limitation on feticidal practice, but it was upheld in the Supreme Court judgement of Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007.
This is surely then, you might think, and regardless of the comments about it now, a settled and uniquely American issue. Quite the contrary, however: this eccentrically awful U.S. butchery is very relevant to British right-to-lifers. Not only are the erroneous arguments used to defend its legality also employed over here, but as a procedure, it is plausibly still legal in some cases over there and it has even been legal in Britain since the early 90s, despite legally being a form of ‘child destruction’. I will explain how and why these things are the case, in part two.