Partial Birth Abortion

Table of Content

Ethical Issues involved in Florida’s

Partial-birth abortion also known, as D & E for dilation and extraction was first used and developed by Dr. James McMahon, who performed the procedure well into the last trimester of pregnancy. These women discovered late in their pregnancies that they were carrying babies that could not survive outside their wombs. They decided to do what was best in their particular medical situation. The procedure (D & E) consists of the surgeon aiming for a breech delivery of the fetus, pulling it down by its extremities through the vagina until its head just lodges at the cervical, the surgeon then proceeds to take a pair of blunt curved Metzenbaum scissors and places the scissors along the spinal cord and forces the scissors into the base of the skull, spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening, and finally a suction catheter is inserted and evacuates the skulls contents. Finally the dead baby is removed. (Bonavoglia 1997:57)

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In Florida according to bill FL HB 1205 (1997), requires a woman, if married, to notify her husband before obtaining an abortion, to delete a waiting period from the proposed title of the legislation, to modify the penalties, to delete from the medical emergency provision an exception to prevent “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” to a woman, and to require a physician, in a medical emergency, to obtain a second physician’s opinion indicating that the abortion is necessary to preserve a woman’s life. This bill became law without the governor’s signature on June 5, 1997, to become effective July 1, 1997. (NARAL 1998:26)

The Abortion Act is what is used to determine whether an abortion is justified; it was passed in 1967 and then amended in 1990. Currently it states that: An abortion may be performed legally if two or more doctors certify that firstly, the mental and physical health of the woman, or her existing children, will suffer if the pregnancy continues, or secondly the child, if born, would be seriously physically or mentally handicapped. In the 1990 act it states that, except that the time limit for when an abortion can be carried out was reduced to 24 weeks. This Act means a pregnant woman has the right to an abortion if upon keeping the pregnancy, and therefore having the child, the mother and/or any children she already has would be harming their physical or mental well-being or secondly the fetus has been shown to have either a physical or mental disability and therefore would be born handicapped. If two doctors both agree that the woman suffers from either of the points, then abortion is a legal option, as long as the pregnancy has not gone more than 24 weeks after conception.

A 15 yr. old girl is pregnant and has requested and abortion without her parents knowing and with no intention to do so. The girl would be allowed an abortion even though she is too young (under 16) to give consent for the medical procedure to take place. The grounds the girl would be allowed the abortion under would be under the first section of the 1967 Act, the pregnancy if continued, would pose a risk to the mother’s own mental health.

An amniocentesis test shows that the baby has a serious deformity. There is no doubt that an abortion would be legal in this circumstance, it falls exactly under the second section of the 1967 Act, because the baby, if born, would be either seriously physically or mentally handicapped. If the pregnancy were a result of rape then an abortion would be permitted to the mother, because keeping the pregnancy would cause the mother’s mental health to suffer, part of the first section of the 1967 Act. The Abortion Act allows for most abortions to go ahead, as it is open to various interpretations (especially in the first section).

In Florida as for public funding, a woman eligible for state medical assistance for general health care, including care related to pregnancy, may not obtain public funds to pay for an abortion unless the procedure is necessary to preserve her life or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Laws concerning D & E abortion are as follows: “No abortion may be performed in the third trimester of pregnancy unless two physicians certify in writing that the abortion is necessary to preserve a woman’s life or health. The physicians must “use the degree of professional skill, care and diligence” most likely to preserve the life and health of the fetus except that the woman’s life and health shall constitute an overriding and superior consideration to the concern for the life and health of the fetus when such concerns are in conflict.” (NARAL 1998:26-27)

A question that toggles many is, does the right to privacy include abortion? R.C. Sproul argues that the right to privacy does not exist in the U.S. Constitution, and even if such a right were mentioned, it would not outweigh the right to life. The current debate is not over whether or not a woman in the United States has the legal right to own her own body with respect to abortion, but should she have the right? The closest the constitution comes to affirming a woman’s right to her own body is an implied “right to privacy”. Among abortion adherents there is a strong sentiment that abortion legislation improperly intrudes into the privacy rights of persons and families. In simpler language, they plead that it is none of the state’s business whether a woman terminates her pregnancy or chooses to carry it to term. The relevant portions of the United States Constitution are as follows:

The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law; nor deny to any persons within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws.

What is immediately evident from even a glimpse of this section of the Constitution is the obvious absence of a single explicit word about privacy rights. The right to privacy concept, on which legalized abortion is based, is not mentioned explicitly anywhere in the Constitution. The issue was decided in the case between Roe v. Wade by this simple assertion:

This right of privacy, whether it be found in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

The Supreme Court should not be faulted for being jealous to protect the privacy rights of citizens from the unwarranted invasion or intrusion of the state. Few of us have a desire to live with big brother monitoring our every action and eavesdropping on our every word. In spite of all this one major question remains, is there any ethical or moral justification for including the right to have an abortion under the broader category of the right to privacy? (Sproul 1990:33-35)

According to the Orthodox Church, common sense states that there is no such thing as being partially born. You can’t have both an abortion and a birth at the same time obviously. The mass of confusion occurs when D & E is performed (dilation and extraction) and when you actually think about it only inches separate the legitimacy of an actual abortion or a homicide. Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) But, then again, Christ has been separated from the governing process and relegated to irrelevancy in vital issues affecting the public debate. (Artemas 1996:1-2)

Along with the legal debates are ongoing arguments between pro-life and pro-choice groups regarding the ethics of abortion. Central to the pro-life position is that the fertilized egg must be valued as a human being from the moment of conception, and that abortion at any time is equivalent to murder. This groups holds that any woman who has sexual intercourse knows that pregnancy is a possibility, and should she willingly have intercourse and get pregnant, she is morally obligated to carry the pregnancy through. Pro-life followers encourage adoption for women who feel they are unable to raise the child. On the other side you have the pro-choice viewpoint, they believe that women have the right and freedom to decide whether and when to have children; they argue that pregnancy can result from contraceptive failure or other factors out of a woman’s control.

When pregnancy does occur pro-choice individuals believe that the most moral decision possible must be determined according to each situation, and that in some cases greater injustice would result if abortion were not an option. If legal abortions were not available, some pro-choice supporters say, “back-alley shops” and do-it-yourself techniques, with their many health risks, as well as the birth of unplanned children, would grow in numbers. Others say that discrimination in health care would result, since wealthy women could more easily make the travel arrangements necessary for a legal abortion elsewhere. Lastly, others say physicians, because of their strong personal convictions regarding abortion rights, would feel forced into becoming lawbreakers. (Insel/Roth 1998:165-167)

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has different views when it comes to abortion. The current pope, Pope John Paul II, has reasserted many rules for a less strict approach. John Paul has repeatedly condemned all sexual activity outside marriage and all non-procreative sex, such as masturbation. There is a sharp division between Roman Catholic Americans. A large segment of Catholics actively or passively support the antiabortion, or right-to-live, movement, yet there are many dissenters. (Hyde/DeLamater 1997:534)

What biblical teachings might be used in a discussion about abortion? The bible is used by Pro life and Pro-choice groups to ‘prove’ that their view is the view that God takes, because the Bible is the word of God. The issue of abortion is not specifically referred to in the words of the bible, so each group picks out quotes and then they use those quotes to support their beliefs. Pro life groups believe that life begins at the moment of conception, their proof that abortion is wrong, quotes that, life begins at conception, people are formed in the image of God, and murder is wrong. Anti-abortion groups and the Roman Catholic Church state that God created each and every human, that each person was intended, their life planned, and mapped out. They were built in the womb of the mother, before the child is delivered, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.” Psalm 139 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:5, these say that God knows the soul of every fetus, and therefore proves that the fertilized egg is a human life. They use their belief that God’s spirit lives in every person, even in an unborn child. By killing that child you are killing a part of God’s family, the quotes from the Bible they use to support that claim are; “Don’t you realize that all of you together are in the house of God, and that the spirit of God lives among you in his house?” 1 Corinthian 3 V16 and “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27-28. These prove that each human is a part of God. These teachings are all about the Sanctity of Life, which Christians believe in. This means that life is a gift from God and each life is precious therefore should be treated with the greatest care and its value should not be jeopardized or questioned in anyway. The other meaning of the sanctity of life is the next biblical teaching that some Christians would use to oppose abortion, the teaching that only God has the right to decide when a life should be taken away. Because He is the one who gave that gift in the first instance and, as life begins at conception, abortion is perceived to be the taking of a human life. “‘I came naked from my mother’s womb’ he said ‘and I shall have nothing when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were his to take away.” Job 1 V21, this supports the argument. As does the ultimate teaching, in the opposing groups eyes, this is possibly the simplest and most well known quote from the Bible, “Thou shall not kill” Ten Commandments Exodus 20 V12. This is the fifth of the Ten Commandments (rules that every man should follow), those who consider abortion to be the murder of a human life, use this to prove that God does not tolerate murder, therefore would not tolerate abortion, it is a sin. (Dershowitz 1992:22-24)

There are of course biblical teachings that can be used to ‘pardon’ abortion; the main theme identified in these quotes is the fact that God forgives our sins, that no one is perfect. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1 V 9. This is one of the important quotes that the people opposed to anti-abortionists use, it states that, if the person is truly sorry for making the decision to abort the baby then God would forgive them of their sins. They use Jesus’ life as a teaching that says that abortion will be forgiven, it is how Jesus sent his life healing those in suffering and how he would not want to see someone suffer if they did not have to, therefore in the eyes of God, abortion, as a last resort, can be pardoned. As you see, it can go to ridiculous extremities when talking about the religious viewpoints concerning abortion or any argument in the matter concerning religious grounds. (Dershowitz 1992:23-28)

As discussed earlier, abortion in any form can be dangerous to the patient. The facts are that women undergoing legal abortions during the first eight weeks of gestation have the lowest risk of death (0.4 per 100,000 abortions), whereas procedures completed after twenty weeks of gestation are associated with the highest risk (10.4 per 100,000). On average, the mortality from induced abortion is one in six thousand and exceeds the risk of maternal death from childbirth. The risk of uterine perforation and resultant visceral injury also increases as gestation advances. The risk of complications requiring hospital admittance increases from 5.5% for abortions performed before fourteen weeks’ gestation to 11.2% for abortions performed subsequent to fourteen weeks. (Sprang 1998:744-745)

Only one out every ten thousand women who have abortions have them after 24 weeks. These are performed only when there is a serious threat to a woman’s life. In addition, fewer than five out of one thousand women who have an early abortion will have serious complications. Women giving birth are much more likely than women having abortions to need major abdominal surgery, such as a cesarean section, as a result of complications. (Knowles 1996:9-11)

Considering the risks of maternal morbidity and mortality increase substantially with advancing gestational age, elective abortions, if they are to be performed, should be performed as early as possible in gestation. Limiting late term abortions would minimize maternal risks. Physicians must preserve their role as healing, compassionate, caring professionals, while recognizing their ethical obligation to care for both the woman and the unborn child. (Sprang 1998:747)

These are just some of the many medical, legal, social, and ethical issues concerning partial-birth abortions. As you can clearly see, the arguments and litigations towards this never-ending issue will continue. With all that I’ve researched I believe that partial-birth is closely related to homicide and that all functions should come to a cease, though for a fact it will remain legal somewhere out there.

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Terminate a Pregnancy Has Generated A Lot of Heat But Very Little Light.

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National Abortion and Reproduction Rights Actions League

1996Who Decides? A State-by-State Review of Abortion and Reproductive Rights

1996Core Concepts in Health. Stanford University: Mayfield Publishing Company

1996 Partial Truths about Partial Births


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