PRESIDENT CLINTON defended his veto of the partial-birth abortion ban in his usual style -- with lies and misrepresentations. He has not thus far been held to account for the veto or its misleading justification.
Let's recall that partial-birth abortions are performed after the 20th week of pregnancy. The baby is turned into a breech position inside the womb and then pulled out of the birth canal by the feet. When only the baby's head remains in the uterus, the doctor punctures the skull with scissors and then inserts a tube to suck the baby's brains out.
A nurse who observed one of these abortions recalled seeing the almost completely delivered baby's body moving, "its tiny hands clasping and unclasping."
A ghastly procedure
How can such a ghastly procedure, amounting to infanticide, be defended? How, in particular, can it be defended by the self-proclaimed "party of compassion"?
The answer, as we saw during the debate over the bill, was with lies.
First, pro-choice advocates circulated the line that fetuses were not killed by the doctor's scissors but by the anesthesia administered to the mother. This was credulously repeated in the press innumerable times. But professional anesthesiologists came forward to decry this false information. Anesthesia does not kill fetuses in utero, they insisted.
Next, pro-choice advocates said that the procedure was performed only to save the life or health of the mother and anyway was so rare that it didn't merit legislative attention.
This was the pose President Clinton struck when he vetoed the bill. Responding to criticism from Sen. Robert Dole, the president said, "Before Dole or anybody else stands up and condemns the rest of us for our alleged lack of moral compass, he ought to say to women, 'I did not want to be bothered by facts. It's OK with me if they rip your body to shreds and you could never have another baby even though the baby you're carrying couldn't live.'
"Now I fail to see why his moral position is superior to the one I took."
But it is President Clinton and pro-choice forces who do not wish to be bothered by facts.
Mother in danger?
It is never medically necessary for a late-term fetus to be killed in order to preserve the health or life of the mother.
According to Dr. Pamela E. Smith, director of Medical Education at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, "There are absolutely no obstetrical situations encountered in this country which require a partially delivered human fetus to be destroyed to preserve the life or health of the mother." The usual procedure, if the mother's life is in danger, is to deliver the baby by induced labor or C-section. The baby may not survive the early delivery, but that is a far cry from killing it.
Even cases of severe hydrocephalus (enlargement of the head due to fluid on the brain) -- to which President Clinton may have been referring when he talked about "ripping your body to shreds" -- can be treated. Dr. Watson Bowes, professor of obstetrics at the University of North Carolina and co-editor of Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, wrote to Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) to note that there is a procedure, called cephalocentesis, for removing excess fluid from the baby's skull prior to birth.
The doctor who performed abortions on the five women who posed with President Clinton at the veto ceremony, Dr. James McMahon, submitted to Congress a breakdown of some 2,000 partial-birth abortions he had performed. Only 9 percent were classified as involving "maternal health indications," and among these, the most common was "depression." Other "health" indicators included "spousal drug exposure" and youth of the mother. Some 56 percent were classified as involving "fetal flaws," but some of the flaws were minor, like cleft lip. Fully one-third, or roughly 660 partial-birth abortions, were purely elective.
The medical community, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, does not recognize the procedure. The legislative counsel of the American Medical Association supported the ban.
The health of the mother argument is bogus. Medical opinion and a majority of both houses of Congress concur. Only the voters can now hold the president accountable.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 7/31/96