Responding to "Pro-Life" Attacks: Why the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Helps

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 3, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Responding to "Pro-Life" Attacks: Why the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Helps Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
June 3
, 2007 Note: Steven Ertelt is the editor and CEO of

The pro-life community has a proud tradition of standing up for those who can’t speak for themselves. No other social cause in American politics, perhaps other than the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century, has the kind of moral authority we do when it comes to advocating for the basic human rights of all people.

That’s why I’m saddened to see representatives of pro-life groups attacking other pro-life advocates today in the national media.

Sadly, a handful of organizations have taken it upon themselves to attack other pro-life groups who supported the ban on partial-birth abortions and applauded the Supreme Court decision that upheld it.

While pro-life advocates can and should have good faith discussions about the best strategies to employ to obtain legal protection for unborn children as soon as possible, there is no place in the pro-life movement for attacks on other pro-life groups or advocates.

That some pro-life groups would accuse others of being involved in the pro-life community to make money or advance the interests of a certain political party is shameful.

Saying some groups or people who have dedicated their entire lives to fight abortion don’t really care about unborn children because they support the partial-birth abortion ban is reprehensible and the groups and people making those comments should be ashamed and immediately issue public apologies.

Partial-Birth Abortion Strategy

Getting away from the personal attacks and looking at the strategy behind the partial-birth abortion ban, the central argument of the naysayers is that the ban will not save any lives and that it is a step backwards.

Neither argument is true.

Whether it saves one life or thousands, surely everyone who celebrates life can appreciate that keeping at least one method of abortion out of the hands of abortion practitioners is a good thing. And it will open the door to the banning of virtually all abortions.

How soon these pro-life groups forget that the partial-birth abortion ban has already saved at least one life.

When Sen. Rick Santorum stood on the floor of the Senate in one of the early debates on the ban in 1996, he responded to pro-abortion Sen. Barbara Boxer’s comment that he was ignoring the "cries" of women who opposed the bill.

As he tells the story: "My response? We would be deafened by the cries of the babies that are not here today, because of this procedure. I then addressed the comments by another senator likening the partial-birth procedure to an appendectomy. I pointed to the diagram depicting this gruesome procedure, in which a 5-month-old fetus is delivered alive, all but the head, and then, while the doctor’s hand is making sure that the baby’s head is not delivered, a pair of scissors are thrust into the base of the baby’s skull. I raised my voice and said, "This is not an appendix; it is a baby, it’s a baby."

The timing of what happened next can only be described as an act of God.

As the members of Senate and observers in the gallery were hushed in listening to Santorum’s arguments, the cry of a baby pierced the room, echoing across the chamber from an outside hallway. No one mentioned the cry, but for a few seconds, no one spoke at all.

No one that is until a couple wrote in to Santorum that they watched the debate on CSPAN and his eloquence in defending human life and the baby’s cry prompted them to change their minds about what to do concerning their unplanned pregnancy. Previously considering abortion, they chose life for their child.

Who knows how many other minds were changed as well.

We know that partial-birth abortions are done across the nation but in two states in particular — New Jersey and Louisiana.

More partial-birth abortions are done at the Metropolitan Medical Associates abortion business than anywhere else in the country. In September 1996, Metropolitan admitted to doing 1,500 partial birth abortions a year, most on healthy mothers of healthy babies.

Fortunately, pro-life advocates are already working to get the national ban enforced in that state and stop those abortions.

And in Louisiana, the state House approved a new state partial-birth abortion ban there on a unanimous vote that will help state and local officials put the reach of the federal ban in place and prosecute those who do these gruesome abortions.

That will stop another 300 partial-birth abortions and in two states alone the ban on these abortion procedures could save the lives of 1,800 unborn children. That’s a victory in and of itself.

This may not be a wholesale halt to the practice of abortion in our country but stopping those abortions matters to those children. They will be able to look at us years down the road and thank us for taking this small step to protect their lives.

Saying that the partial-bith abortion ban nationally or in the states won’t save one life is both factually wrong and intellectually disingenuous.

But the ban is helping in other ways…

Supreme Court Decision Has Effects for Roe

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the federal ban on partial-birth abortions could pave the way to a ruling reversing the high court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that toppled pro-life laws across the country.

The thought is that if the high court could reverse its 2000 decision on partial-birth abortion that it could change its mind on abortion itself as well.

The ruling was the first major abortion case in which new Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito have ruled, perhaps giving a clue as to their views on Roe itself.

The pair might very well join Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and a fifth justice in the future who would form a five-judge group giving it the majority on the high court for the first time since the landmark 1973 case.

A fifth judge is needed because Justice Kennedy supports Roe despite his joining the majority in the partial-birth abortion case and writing the main opinion.

Jay Sekulow, the head of the American Center for Law and Justice, told the "decision represents an important shift in the ongoing battle to protect human life and represents a very significant pro-life victory in the abortion debate.”

Roberta Combs, the president of the Christian Coalition, was more direct.

"With today’s Supreme Court decision, it is just a matter of time before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 will also be struck down by the court," she said.

Knowing that the court is moving closer to the day when Roe will be reversed and state’s can resume their efforts to afford full legal protection for unborn children is the biggest and most important victory from the decision. It’s good news that everyone in the pro-life community should embrace.

Passing State Laws to Reduce Abortions

One of the lesser-heralded benefits of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the national partial-birth abortion ban is that it assists state legislative efforts to reduce abortions. That’s because the majority opinion includes language affirming the right of states to approve laws limiting abortions.

Writing for the 5-4 majority in the case, Justice Anthony Kennedy affirmed that "The government has a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life."

"The government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman," he wrote. "The court has given state and federal legislatures wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty."

That opens the door wide for laws such as Right to Know measures that help women considering an abortion know of its risks and alternatives. The passage of a that law in West Virginia eventually led to the reduction of abortions by 14 percent in the years following.

In fact, studies done on the pro-life laws state legislatures have passed find that they reduce abortions. One recent one indicated that pro-life laws such as parental notification or consent reduced the abortion rate on teenage girls by more than 50 percent.

Again, this is something the pro-life community ought to be celebrating.

Ruling Promotes Post-Abortion Efforts

I’ve written at length before about how I believe the women who are a part of the recent post-abortion movement will aid the pro-life community in winning the abortion debate. Those efforts got a big boost from the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Justice Anthony Kennedy also touched on post-abortion problems and pain in his majority opinion and people on both sides of the abortion debate were surprised that the high court delved into the issue of how abortion adversely affects women.

They say it’s a line of argument against legalized abortion that could set up an eventual decision overturning Roe v. Wade itself.

In the Roe case, Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion, said the state must be concerned about "preserving and protecting the health of the pregnant woman.”

However, Kennedy’s majority opinion in the partial-birth abortion case, said it was “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who have abortions suffer “regret,” “severe depression,” “loss of esteem” and other ills.

He pointed out that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustain."

"Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow," Justice Kennedy added. "It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form."

Justice Kennedy relied on a brief submitted by The Justice Foundation on behalf of Sandra Cano, of the Doe v. Bolton case, and 180 women hurt by abortion for the post-abortion commentary.

Allan Parker, the lead attorney at the pro-life law firm confirmed that the post-abortion experiences of the women guided the court.

Ironically, the same groups that supported the South Dakota ban on virtually all abortions and criticized those supporting the partial-birth abortion ban say nothing of how the lawmakers in the state relied on the same post-abortion arguments the Supreme Court used to justify its partial-birth abortion ruling.

Those arguments will very likely play a part in overturning Roe when that day comes and the boost the partial-birth abortion ruling gave them can’t be overstated.

Changing Public Opinion

Since the issue of partial-birth abortions first came to the public’s attention following a paper Ohio abortion practitioner Martin Haskell wrote in the early 1990s after he invented it, polls have consistently shown that Americans take a strong pro-life position.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life likes to say that Americans will change their attitudes on abortion when they see what it actually does.

The medical drawings of the partial-birth abortion procedure showed the country in a non-threatening way what abortion looks like. Tens of thousands of national and local news stories contained descriptions of the abortion procedure at a time when the media refused to cover any facts about what abortion does to unborn children.

Hundreds of debates in Congress and state legislatures allowed lawmakers the opportunity to make it clear to their colleagues and the public that abortion is a grisly thing that involves ghastly procedures killing unborn children.

Polls reflect how the partial-birth abortion debate has solidified public opinion as, since the debate began, they have consistently shown that about 55 percent of Americans oppose 98 percent of all abortions.

Also, a January CBS News survey saw that 47 percent of Americans want to prohibit all or most abortions and 16 percent want them to be greatly restricted.

About 30 percent of those polled want to limit abortions to the very rare cases of rape, incest or life of the mother and another 12 percent want abortions allowed only in when the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life. Another 5 percent said abortions should always be illegal.

Just 31 percent of the public wants to permit abortion in all cases.

A CNN poll last month found that a majority of Americans say they are pro-life when it comes to the issue of abortion. When asked to self-identify as "pro-life" or "pro-choice" on the issue of abortion, 50 percent of Americans call themselves pro-life while just 45 percent say otherwise.

Polls even found that as the Supreme Court was debating the partial-birth abortion ban and the law in the news that support for abortion was declining.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll found the support for abortion dropped two percent from December 2005 to March 2007 and those who want it illegal in all or most cases rose three percent during the same time period.

Their new survey also showed that the percentage of Americans who want abortion legal in all cases has dropped from 20 percent in April 2005 to 16 percent today.

Those polls extend to the views women have on the subject of abortion as well.

A June 2003 poll conducted by the pro-abortion Center for the Advancement of Women found 51% of women took a pro-life position opposing most or all abortions while only 30 percent said it should be generally available

And a September 2003 survey conducted by the Polling Company found 54 percent of women selected one of three different pro-life views opposing all or almost all abortions. Only 39 percent backed abortion.

This solidifying of public opinion behind the pro-life perspective has been brought about in part because of the partial-birth abortion ban and it should be good news for the naysayers. It will result in the election of more pro-life lawmakers and passing more laws protecting the unborn.

Moving Forward

It’s clear that the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the ban on partial-birth abortions and the ban itself will both result in the saving of lives of unborn babies but also set the stage for overturning Roe.

Those who disagree are entitled to their opinion and I respect them for wanting to move the pro-life movement in the best direction to halt this senseless travesty once and for all.

But attacking other pro-life groups and people has no place in this movement and it will only result in destroying the unity and cohesiveness we need to end abortion.