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A little over six years ago, Brenda Pratt Shafer, a registered nurse with thirteen years of experience, was assigned by her nursing agency to an abortion clinic. Since Nurse Shafer considered herself "very pro-choice," she didn’t think this assignment would be a problem; however, she soon realized how wrong she was.
“The doctor delivered the baby’s body and arms, everything but his little head. The baby’s body was moving. The doctor took a pair of scissors and inserted them into the back of the baby’s head, and the baby’s arms jerked out in a flinch. Then he stuck the high-powered suction tube into the hole and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby was completely limp (Partial Birth Abortion – All sides 1).”
While these third trimester or partial birth abortions only occur in 1% of all abortions (Partial 2), Ron Fitsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers estimates that three to four thousand partial birth abortions are performed annually in the United State; about ten a day. As of December 1998, only 23 states have passed anti-partial birth abortion (PBA) laws (Kellman 1). However, with the exception of Virginia, all have been declared unconstitutional or suspended until pending law suites have been settled. This means that everyday ten babies three inches from birth are murdered legally. If the doctor were to birth these babies just three more inches, this procedure would be infanticide. It is not only ridiculous that these living breathing babies be murdered, but that their murder is legal.
Partial birth abortions are the political “third rail”; no one wants to touch them for fear of being fried. Republican and Conservative politicians have repeatedly proposed seemingly noble legislation outlawing partial birth abortions, but the legislation’s vague wording, which often implies the illegality of any abortion, leads to the inevitable Presidential veto or the Supreme Court’s declaration of unconstitutionality. Democratic and Liberal counter-proposals also include vague wording, which can be interpreted to dissolve the intent of the law. Partial birth abortions are the legal murder of innocent, living babies. It is time that legislatures stop playing political “hot-potato” with the issue of partial birth abortion, and pass legislation that will take a definite stance on this issue and make partial birth abortions illegal.
The United States Congress isn’t the only legislature having difficulty passing PBA legislation; state legislatures are facing issues of unconstitutionality as well.
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Federal laws are often counter-proposed by Democratic legislators. In May 1997, Republicans proposed legislation similar to what was proposed and passed by congress but ultimately vetoed by President Clinton in 1995. Democrats, in an attempt to pass legislation President Clinton would sign, counter-proposed with an amendment that would “criminalize any partial birth abortion performed after the fetus became viable unless required to avoid the likely death or ‘grievous damage’ to the health of the woman. (Partial 6)” A major difference of opinion existed in situations where the life of the woman is not in jeopardy but her health would be “grievously damaged” without a partial birth abortion. These are situations in which the woman would be severely disabled or would suffer long term health problems. However, the ambiguity of “long term health problems” led many Republicans to believe that the amendment could be interpreted to allow partial birth abortions in the case of depression, or emotional distress over continuing the pregnancy. In this case, the Republican proposal would not allow a PBA, and the Democratic amendment would allow the procedure if the woman wanted it. The 1997 proposal was passed by the House, revised and passed by the Senate, passed again by the House, vetoed by President Clinton, returned to the House where the veto was overridden by more than a two-thirds majority, and finally sent to the Senate where a two-thirds majority was missed by three votes (Kellman 1).
It is time to stop playing games, and pass a piece of legislation everyone can agree on without obscuring the intent of the bill to one side or the other. Despite all the differences of opinion in the Congress, there was also a large degree of consensus. There is a general agreement that PBA’s should be allowed if it is necessary to save the life of the mother and should be allowed if the fetus is dead. There is also agreement that PBA’s should not be allowed for ordinary health reasons, or in cases of rape or incest. Added to this should also be a provision which would allow partial birth abortions in instances where the fetus would be born severely malformed and would die within hours or days of birth. Specific instances of this would include where the child would be born with only a brain stem and not a functioning brain. If the baby were to be delivered normally, it would die in a few days, and never attain consciousness, making it more of a precisely constructed doll than a baby. This bill, following previous attempts made by both the United States Congress and the individual state legislatures would hold the doctor performing the operation liable, and not the mother.
Three to four thousand babies are victims of partial birth abortions every year (Partial 2). Ten babies three inches from life are murdered every single day. The saddest part about their murder is that thus far, it is done legally. Congress needs to stop putting political agenda before issues as important as this and pass a piece of legislation that would stop partial birth abortions from occurring unless they were absolutely necessary.
Erbe, Bonnie. “ ‘Pro-choice’ drive needs jump start.” Daily Times. 21 Oct. 1999
Kellman, Laurie. “Senate tries to push abortion bill again.” Daily Times 21 Oct. 1999
Partial Birth Abortion – All sides. Dec. 1998. 10 Nov. 1999