On April 6, 1977, a California woman who was seven and a half months pregnant decided to abort her baby. Into her womb a salt saline solution was injected, intended to burn the fetus both inside and out over the next 24 hours. After 18 hours, however, a little girl was born—alive. Because the abortionist had not yet arrived, the little two-pounder was rushed by a nurse to a hospital. Four surgeries and twenty-five years later, Gianna Jessen is a beautiful young woman who walks with a limp because of oxygen deprivation during the botched abortion. "I am happy to be alive," she cries. "Every day I thank God for life."

If Gianna's mother had sought an abortion today, she might have been given a partial-birth abortion (PBA), and Gianna never would have had a chance. In PBA the abortionist delivers an unborn child's body until only the head remains inside the mother, punctures the back of the child's skull with scissors, and sucks the baby's brains out before completing the delivery.

A January 2003 Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans favor a law to make PBA illegal in the last six months of pregnancy "except in cases necessary to save the life of the mother." Therefore one would think that the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act," introduced into Congress the third week of February, would win easy passage. But opponents will make four objections, each of which is based on misinformation.

1. "In 2000 the Supreme Court already declared such a bill unconstitutional." The Court struck down a Nebraska statute because it might be interpreted to make another abortion procedure (D & E, which dismembers well-developed fetuses while still in the uterus) illegal, and because the Court believed that PBA in some cases might be the procedure with the fewest side-effects. But the current bill explicitly applies only when most of the baby is killed outside the mother, and cites the extensive congressional hearing record that found "that partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother; is in fact unrecognized as a valid abortion procedure by the mainstream medical community; [and] poses additional health risks to the mother."

2. "PBA is used rarely and only in acute medical crises." According to The New York Times (Feb. 26, 1997, p. A11), Ron Fitzsimmons, then and now executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted this was only the "party line." He said, "I lied through my teeth. … In the vast majority of cases, the procedure is performed on a healthy mother with a healthy fetus that is twenty or more weeks along." Rare? The Alan Guttmacher Institute, an affiliate of Planned Parenthood, declared that 2,200 PBAs were performed in 2000, and the Bergen (N.J.) Record reported in 1996 an Englewood clinic that performed more than 1500 PBA procedures annually in that facility alone.

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3. "This could open the door to the eventual elimination of all legal abortion, which would be devastating to women's health." First of all, there is no political will for this, since a large majority of Americans still supports legal abortion in the first trimester. But more importantly, the very premise of this objection is undercut by a new book which argues that abortion is unhealthy for women. In "Women's Health After Abortion: The Medical and Psychological Evidence" (2002), Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy and Ian Gentles point to short-term risks (death from both legal and illegal abortions, infection, damage to reproductive organs) and long-term risks (infertility, psychological trauma). They also cite compelling evidence that abortion on demand has fostered a climate of sexual irresponsibility, which has contributed to the spread of STDs among women.

4. "Restricting access to abortion will return us to the era when thousands of women died every year from illegal abortions." Bernard Nathanson, former leader of pro-abortion forces, concedes, "I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose that others did too. But in the 'morality' of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?" The honest statistics were presented on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1981, and were never challenged by pro-abortion groups: after penicillin became available in the 1940s, deaths from illegal abortions stabilized at about 250 per year. Then the numbers started dropping even more quickly after 1960 until, in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, there were only 39 deaths in the U.S. from illegal abortions.

Of course we should grieve every human life lost—not only the 20 to 40 women who still die every year from legal and illegal abortions, but also the thousands of little lives lost through the barbarities of PBA. If animals were treated this way, PETA would call for a ban on the procedure.

But if the Gallup polls are accurate, the vast majority of Americans will agree that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is a reasonable response to what has become a national scandal. With its passage, more Giannas may survive.

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Gerald R. McDermott is Professor of Religion at Roanoke College and an Episcopal priest.

Related Elsewhere

Also appearing on our site today:

Saved by Sonogram | Ultrasounds help crisis pregnancy centers reduce abortion.
New Life for Prolife | Abortion is no longer the ghastly growth industry it was in the 1970s and 1980s.

More Christianity Today abortion stories can be found at our life ethics archive. Previous articles about abortion in the U.S. include:

Prolife as Mafia? | Supreme Court to decide if racketeering laws apply to anti-abortion activities. (Jan. 15, 2003)
Saving Black Babies | Abortion has cost 13 million African American lives. (Jan. 19, 2003)
FDA Candidate Irks Abortion Pill Advocates | The Christian Medical Association says critics fear David Hager's "well-grounded" opposition. (Nov. 26, 2002)
Embracing the Unwanted | Chinese American Christians are starting to become more openly prolife. (May 9, 2002)
Doctors Slow to Prescribe Abortion Pill | Since RU-486's approval, rising safety concerns and common side effects have led to little use. (Nov. 12, 2001)
Whistleblower Fired | Nurse Jill Stanek's lawyer calls action retaliation for prolife views. (Oct. 26, 2001)
Bush's Prolife Strategy Questioned | White House chief of staff says abortion isn't on list of public policy priorities. (June 15, 2001)
Counteroffensive Launched on RU-486 | Abortion-pill critics allege safety concerns overlooked in FDA approval process." (June 15, 2001)
Virginia Okays Waiting Period For Abortion | NARAL says 43 prolife measures were passed at the state level last year. (April 2, 2001)
Bitter Pills | What does RU-486 change about abortion? (December 11, 2000)
House Passes Bill to Protect Babies Outside the Womb | Protection for infants who survive abortions draws 380-15 approval. (Sept. 28, 2000)
Partial Birth: What Next? | Louisiana's special assistant attorney general questions well-intentioned lawmakers. (August 7, 2000)
The Abortion Debate Is Over | Pro-lifers overestimated the average American's allegiance to logic. (Dec. 6, 1999)
Partial-birth Abortion Ban May Go to Supreme Court | Differing appeals court rulings increases chances of forthcoming decision. (Nov. 8, 1999)
Abortion Is Not a "Necessary Evil" | Why Americans oppose abortion but want to keep it legal. (May 24, 1999)
Refocusing the Pro-life Agenda | The pro-life cause is winning the battle of persuasion in the minds of many Americans. (March 1, 1999)
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Abortion's Untold Story | How journalist Cynthia Gorney has helped both sides of the abortion debate to view the other side honestly. (April 27, 1998)
Wanted: A New Pro-life Strategy | Twenty-five years after Roe, and 37 million abortions later, we have to admit we are losing the fight. (Jan. 12, 1998)
Roe v. McCorvey | What made "Roe" betray the pro-choice cause? (Jan. 12, 1998)
States Approving Bans on Partial-Birth Abortion | Lawmakers are no longer waiting on federal bill. (October 27, 1997)
Pro-life Legislation Makes Strides | Laws already have been enacted in a dozen states to ban partial-birth abortion. (July 14, 1997)
Profamily Victories Tempered by Abortion Override Failure (Nov. 11, 1996)
Abortion Pill Seems on Fast Track | Pro-life activists say they will now concentrate their opposition efforts on grassroots education about the drug's potential dangers. (Sept. 16, 1996)
You Say Choice, I Say Murder |Before prolife arguments can reach the undecided American, we have got to look at the language we use. (June 24, 1991)
The Abortion Wars | What most Christians don't know about the history of pro-life struggles. (Oct. 6, 1989)
Reversing Roe v. Wade | It may take more than a single court decision to counter abortion on demand. (Sept. 20, 1985)
Arguments in Favor of Abortion Are Strong … | … if you accept one all-important assumption. (July 15, 1983)
Abortion and the Court | The Roe v. Wade decision runs counter to the moral sense of the American people. (Feb. 16, 1973)