Too Grim for the Defenders

By Michael Fumento

The Washington Times, November 11, 1995
Copyright 1995 the Washington Times

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The answer is: "She found this method of abortion so terrible and vile as to force a vote to prevent illustrations thereof from being seen by congressional members."

If you said, "Who is Colorado Democrat Patricia Schroeder?" you’re right.

Second answer: "She led the fight to keep legal this method of abortion." If you said. "Who is Patricia Schroeder?" you’re right again. Confused? Are you wondering how the same person who said that showing black-and-white drawings of a procedure would turn House chambers into "a chamber of horrors" but nonetheless would want that procedure to remain legal? You’re not alone.

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Pat Schroeder

Involved is a procedure called a partial-birth abortion, which the House of Representatives has overwhelming voted to ban but which the Senate kicked over over to its Judiciary Committee, where opponents hope to well, abort it. Here is the description of the procedure used by the Los Angeles Times:

The procedure requires a physician to extract a fetus, feet first, from the womb through the birth canal until all but its head is exposed. Then the tips of surgical scissors are thrust into the base of the fetus’ skull, and a suction catheter is inserted through the opening and the brain is removed.

If the physician were to extract the fetus just a couple of more inches, it would be deemed a live baby and killing it would be murder. But by keeping that head in the womb it’s just a fetus and hence void of rights.

The procedure, according to perhaps its foremost practitioner, Ohio doctor Martin Haskell, is performed beginning at the half-way point of pregnancy, 20 weeks or four and one-half months. Haskell says he wouldn’t go beyond 26 weeks but others apparently will do it all the way up to nine months.

How many of these abortions are performed is a matter for speculation. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, there are 13,000 abortions annually after four and one-half months, but how many of these involve partial birth is questionable. The National Abortion Federation says that two doctors, Haskell and the recently-deceased James MacMahon, did 450 between them yearly.

One argument used for keeping them legal is that there are so few anyway, what’s the big deal? But there aren’t many axe murders either. That’s no reason they should be legal.

A better argument might be the oft-repeated claim that, as National Public Radio put it, "Doctors resort to this rare procedure only for late-term abortions if the fetuses have severe abnormalities and no chance for survival."

But the claim is false. During a taped interview with the American Medical News, Haskell said, "In my particular case, probably 20% are for genetic reasons, and the other 80% are purely elective."

Another charge against the House bill was that it did not allow for endangerment to the life of the mother. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) stated this forcefully during Senate debate. But the bill’s language states:

It is an affirmative defense to prosecution or a civil action under this section [that] 1) the partial-birth abortion was necessary to save the life of the mother; and 2) no other procedure would suffice for that purpose.

Rarely is congressional language so unambiguous as that.

Then there are those who insist that all medical procedures, this included, be "the decision of a responsible physician, not of medical know-nothings in Congress" as the San Francisco Chronicle put it.

Chronicle editorial writers aren’t the only ones who feel doctors require no regulation. Nazi doctor Josef Mengele felt the same way.

In any case, there are all sorts of things that responsible physicians can’t do, and drugs they can’t prescribe, because of the laws of congressmen and their bureaucratic servants.

It seemed to me that what the Pat Schroeders of the world want least is for us to be informed about what really takes place during a partial-birth abortion. So I did the opposite and went to an expert, someone who had observed them.

Brenda Shafer witnessed three partial-birth abortions after being assigned to Haskell’s office by a "temp" agency.

"It was the worst thing I ever saw," Shafer told me. "I’m a nurse. I’ve seen just about every kind of death you can imagine. I’ve had children die in my arms. But nothing compares to what I saw in that clinic. I kept telling myself this isn’t happening; it’s just in a dream."

A Downs syndrome child she saw aborted was six and a half months old. "I’ve had a couple of friends who had babies that old," said Shafer. After the fetus’ brains were sucked out and it was "delivered," the mother "held it in her arms and when she looked at that baby she started crying `Oh God, forgive me, what have I done!’ We had to take the baby away from her; she wouldn’t give it up."

Shafer quickly beat feet from the clinic and just as quickly switched from being "strongly pro-choice" to being a lot more strongly anti-abortion. She does agree with Schroeder, however, as to the power of images. She offers that, "Maybe they should march people into an abortion clinic and make them watch like they did with people [in death camps] after the holocaust, if it’s such a wonderful procedure."

Interesting idea, Brenda. I know a certain Colorado congresswoman with whom we can start.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on abortion and on laws and legislation.