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This House would ban partial birth abortions
This House would ban partial birth abortions
This issue is about late-term abortions, in the second and third trimesters. At least 90% of abortions are performed in the first trimester, when other procedures are more appropriate. In partial-birth abortion (PBA), also known as Dilation and Extraction (D&X), the woman's cervix is dilated, and the foetus is partially removed from the womb, feet first. The surgeon inserts a sharp object into the back of the foetus' head, removes it, and inserts a vacuum tube through which the brain is extracted. The head of the foetus contracts at this point and allows the foetus to be more easily removed from the womb.  The main justifications for the use of D&X are: that the foetus is dead; that continued pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother; that continued pregnancy will adversely affect the mother’s health; that the foetus is so malformed that it will never gain consciousness after birth. More controversial is the use of the technique for healthy foetuses when the mother’s life is not at risk. This is banned by several state Medical Associations in the US, but many physicians have reported performing them, mainly for women who are suicidally depressed, but also for rape victims and for very young pregnant women.
It is estimated that about 3,000 partial-birth abortions were performed per year in the United States in the 1990s (though this represents around 0.2% of the total number of abortions). Bill Clinton vetoed bills banning partial-birth abortions in 1995, 1997 and 1999. George W. Bush signed a partial-birth abortion ban into law in 2003, and this was found constitutional in 2007 by the US Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood Federation of America v. Gonzales (largely reversing the Court's decision in a 2000 case on state law). Although this is not necessarily a US-specific debate, the issue is on the political agenda in the USA to an extent which is not matched elsewhere, and some of the arguments here reflect this.
In running this debate (and with all other abortion debates) it is necessary to consider whether or not an exception will be made for medical necessity.
NB In addition to the arguments below, this debate may well employ arguments from debates about abortion in general – consult the entry for ‘Abortion’ in debatabase, and the materials linked to from there.
 The Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, ‘Abortion’, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/pubhealth/modules/reproductiveHealth/abortion.html
 Alabama Policy institute, ‘Partial-Birth Abortions’, 2007 http://alabamapolicy.org/issues/gti/issue.php?issueID=253&guideMainID=8
 Finer and Henshaw, ‘Abortion Incidence and Serevices in the United States in 2000’, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3500603.html
 Supreme Court of the United States, Gonzales, Attorney General v. Carhart et al. 18 April 2007, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-380.pdf
 Schonhardt-Bailey, Cheryl, ‘The Congressional debate on partial-birth abortion: constitutional gravitas and moral passion’, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 38 no. 3, pp.383-410, p.384, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/3504/1/The_Congressional_Debate_on_Partial-Birth_Abortion_%28LSERO%29.pdf
|Points For||Points Against|
|The foetus feels pain||The concept of "foetal rights" is an attack on the autonomy of women|
|If personhood accrues at birth, then abortion after inducing birth is wrong||Opposition to partial birth abortion is part of a strategy intended to ban abortion in general|
|Abortion is wrong per se when there are alternatives such as adoption||Partial birth abortions are safer than any available alternative|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
The foetus feels pain
Partial-birth abortion is disgusting. Like all abortions, it involves the killing of an unborn child, but unlike first trimester abortions there is no doubt that the foetus can feel pain by the third trimester. The procedure involves sticking a pair of scissors into a baby’s brain, enlarging the hole, sucking the brain out with a catheter and then crushing the skull. It is entirely unacceptable to do this to a living human being. Psychological damage to the mother as a result of rape or teenage pregnancy or depression is in the end less significant than the physical damage - death - caused to the child.
Nobody would choose to have a partial-birth abortion over a much simpler abortion in the first trimester. Partial-birth abortions are either medically or psychologically necessary. If a young mother either does not find out she is pregnant or is too scared to tell anyone, if a woman is raped and decides at any stage that she does not want the baby, if a woman is threatening suicide if she is forced to carry a baby to term, we should not make her suffer further by forbidding her from ending the pregnancy. For all sorts of reasons, many women do not seek any kind of medical help until late in their pregnancy - this should not mean they forfeit their right to an abortion. In any case, if abortion is allowed at all, and given that the foetus is not recognised in law as a human being, it should be nobody’s business but the mother’s whether and at what stage she chooses to have an abortion.Improve this
If personhood accrues at birth, then abortion after inducing birth is wrong
If birth is the crucial dividing-line we use to decide when legal personhood begins, then we should not be allowed to induce birth and then deliberately kill a foetus during that process - this is different from early abortion in which birth is induced and the foetus dies naturally. Partial-birth abortion is murder, even on the pro-choice understanding of personhood.Improve this
This is misleading - in partial-birth abortion, as the term suggests, the foetus is not fully born when it is killed: the purpose of collapsing the skull is to allow the foetus’ head to pass more easily through the birth canal. At no point in the process is a live foetus entirely outside the womb, so legal personhood is never an issue.Improve this
Abortion is wrong per se when there are alternatives such as adoption
Tragically, some babies are unwanted, but this does not mean that we should kill them. There are plenty of other options, notably adoption. If anything, the case for adoption is more compelling in the third trimester, because the pregnancy is nearer to its natural end and there is less time, only about ten weeks, for the mother to have to put up with it. Unwanted pregnancy and adoption may be psychologically harmful, but in many cases so is abortion, particularly at a late stage of pregnancy when the mother can see that the dead foetus is recognisably a baby - the guilt feelings associated with feeling that one is responsible for murdering a child can be unbearable.
 Bupa, ‘Stages of pregnancy’, April 2010, http://www.bupa.co.uk/individuals/health-information/directory/s/pregnancy-what-happens-stages#textBlock190283
Arguing that adoption is a good option shows a fundamental lack of awareness of what is involved in carrying an unwanted foetus to term. Pregnancy can be stressful at the best of times; being forced to carry an unwanted child against your will is enormously traumatic, and can cause permanent psychological harm, as can the knowledge that your own unwanted child is growing up elsewhere and may one day return to find you. If a mother chooses to carry a foetus to term and then give it up for adoption, that’s fine, but nobody should force her to do so.Improve this
The concept of "foetal rights" is an attack on the autonomy of women
The culture of foetal rights reflects a dangerous litigious trend in American society, and implies a view of pregnant women as being nothing more than baby-carrying machines whose independence and autonomy should be restricted and whose motivations should be questioned at every turn. If this has implications for the abortion debate, then those implications are profoundly damaging to women in general. In any case, the mother of a wanted baby has entirely different responsibilities toward the unborn foetus from the mother of an unwanted baby - that’s why our society allows both abortions and antenatal classes.Improve this
Allowing partial-birth abortion is utterly inconsistent with the growing, and legally recognised, respect for foetal rights in the United States. If a man can sue the mother of his child for taking drugs during pregnancy which discolour their child’s teeth, if pregnant women can be banned from the smoking sections of restaurants, what sense does it make to allow exactly the same foetuses to have their skulls deliberately crushed?Improve this
Opposition to partial birth abortion is part of a strategy intended to ban abortion in general
Partial-birth abortions form a tiny proportion of all abortions, but from a medical and psychological point of view they ought to be the least controversial. The reason for this focus is that late-term abortions are the most obviously distasteful, because late-term foetuses look more like babies than embryos or foetuses at an earlier developmental stage. Late-term abortions therefore make for the best pro-life campaigning material. By attempting to focus the debate here, campaigners are aiming to conflate all abortions with late-term abortions, and to increase opposition to all abortion on that basis.Improve this
Although many people who are against partial-birth abortion are against abortion in general, there is no necessary link, as partial-birth abortion is a particularly horrifying form of abortion. This is for the reasons already explained: it involves a deliberate, murderous physical assault on a half-born baby, whom we know for certain will feel pain and suffer as a result. We accept that there is some legitimate medical debate about whether embryos and earlier foetuses feel pain; there is no such debate in this case, and this is why partial-birth abortion is uniquely horrific, and uniquely unjustifiable.Improve this
Partial birth abortions are safer than any available alternative
The D&X abortion procedure generates the minimum of risk for the mother. Banning it means that the only alternatives are premature labour induction for which mortality rates are 2.5 times higher and is emotionally very difficult due to the length of time it takes (it is also likely to be unacceptable to the proposition) and hysterotomy (which results in removal of the womb). Finally as those who are having late partial birth abortions are likely to be suicidal, or at least will be very determined to get rid of their child they are the most likely to resort to back-street methods that cause damage to themselves.
 The Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, ‘Abortion’, http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/pubhealth/modules/reproductiveHealth/abortion.html
There is no medical consensus on this issue. Where Dilation and Extraction is performed without inducing partial birth then it has the potential to be just as safe for the mother.Improve this
LastName, FirstName. “Article Title.” Publication Source. Volume Number. Date Published. http://sourceurl.com.
Alabama Policy institute, ‘Partial-Birth Abortions’, 2007 http://alabamapolicy.org/issues/gti/issue.php?issueID=253&guideMainID=8
Bupa, ‘Stages of pregnancy’, April 2010, http://www.bupa.co.uk/individuals/health-information/directory/s/pregnancy-what-happens-stages#textBlock190283
Craig, Larry E., ‘Clinton Claims on Partial-Birth Abortion Still Not True -- Not Even 'Legally Accurate'’, United States Senate Republican Policy Committee, 15 September 1998, http://rpc.senate.gov/releases/1998/partial-birth.htm
Finer and Henshaw, ‘Abortion Incidence and Serevices in the United States in 2000’, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3500603.html
Gallup, ‘Abortion’, 30 November 2011, http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx
Lee, Susan J., et al., ‘Fetal Pain, A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence’, Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol 294 (8), 2005, http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/294/8/947.short
Schonhardt-Bailey, Cheryl, ‘The Congressional debate on partial-birth abortion: constitutional gravitas and moral passion’, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 38 no. 3, pp.383-410, p.384, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/3504/1/The_Congressional_Debate_on_Partial-Birth_Abortion_%28LSERO%29.pdf
Supreme Court of the United States, Gonzales, Attorney General v. Carhart et al. 18 April 2007, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-380.pdf
The Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, ‘Abortion’, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/pubhealth/modules/reproductiveHealth/abortion.html
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