Partial Birth Abortion Ban’s Both Arbitrary and Dangerous


Before we get into the Supreme Court decision that will allow a ban on late-term abortions, let’s get one thing clear: there is no such thing as a “partial birth abortion.” This term was born of the clever marketing of the anti-choice movement (or “pro-life” as they like to be called) and has no medical foundation whatsoever.

Still, today the high court ruled today that the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority opinion said that the bill’s opponents “have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases.”

The case is the very move that choice advocates have feared since the ascendancy of a conservative court under President Bush. Of the million or so abortions that happen each year in this country, 90% happen within the first trimester and are not affected by this ruling. It’s the other 10%, the women who, whether it be after moving through the hoops of waiting periods, parental notification, or the lack of clinics, who will be impacted. What will become of these vulnerable women, who have already made what’s likely the hardest decision of their lives? Doctors may spurn the ruling and go ahead with the abortion anyway, but those who do face fines and jail time. For all involved, what is considered a safe procedure just got more dangerous.

“Partial Birth Abortion” is an arbitrary legal term, not a medical one. A late-term, or second or third trimester abortion usually involves a different method of removing the fetus, usually D&X, or Dilation and Extraction, which means the fetus is removed intact. The PBAB puts a broad interpretation on the type of extraction method, making a medical judgment call on procedure rather than a time frame. Because the ban refers to a type of procedure rather than a time limit, say 12 weeks, any abortion performed where protecting the health of the mother with a less-invasive D&X would be preferable, is now illegal.

“Today’s decision is alarming,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the dissenting opinion. It flies in the face of previous high court abortion decisions and “refuses to take them seriously.”

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