Ripping babies out limb-by-limb
A more grisly and horrifying procedure than partial-birth abortion
On Monday, the West Virginia state legislature voted to ban a common late-term abortion method that kills viable babies. The procedure, known as the “dilation and evacuation” method, is much more violent than the more commonly known partial-birth abortion procedure: A D&E terminates a baby’s life by ripping him or her apart limb-by-limb in the mother’s womb.
In WORLD Magazine’s Feb. 1, 2003, issue, Lynn Vincent reported on this grisly abortion procedure, and we republish her article today as part of our Saturday Series. —Mickey McLean
Doctor and incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist calls partial-birth abortion “a rogue procedure” that “offends the sensibilities of me as a physician.” Thankfully, most Washington watchers expect quick action to outlaw the grisly “dilation and extraction” (D&X) abortion technique now that Congress and the White House are both in Republican hands.
What most Americans do not realize, however, is that D&X is only one type of abortion that kills viable babies. Even if Congress and the president outlaw partial-birth abortion, another type of late-term abortion—one so violent that many abortionists actually prefer the “rogue” partial-birth procedure to it—will remain legal. But if Americans are repulsed by partial-birth abortion, perhaps they should take a hard look at the violent “dilation and evacuation” (D&E) method, in which preborn infants are removed piece by piece.
Martin Haskell of Dayton, Ohio, in 1992 introduced the dilation and extraction procedure—the one pro-lifers would later label “partial-birth abortion”—at a Risk Management Seminar sponsored by the National Abortion Federation. The two- to three-day method calls for the abortionist to force early dilation and labor, deliver through the cervix the head of a living child, stab the child near the base of its skull, scramble its brains, then fully deliver the baby, dead. Dilation and evacuation is quicker, but no less heinous. In a D&E, which a partial-birth ban (in a manner of speaking) would leave intact, the doctor rips the parts of a living child out of its mother’s womb one fully formed body part at a time.
A WORLD analysis of the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics shows that even while the number of abortions overall fell by about 20 percent during the 1990s, the number of late second-trimester and third-trimester abortions increased by 23 percent in the 35 states (plus New York City) that reported abortion statistics to the CDC throughout the 1990s. (Some states, like Ohio, didn’t report every year; California, a high-abortion state, didn’t report at all to the CDC.)
Abortions between 21 and 25 weeks are considered late second-trimester, while those at 26 weeks and older are considered third-trimester. All babies at or beyond 21 weeks gestation are entering the realm of viability, with their chances of survival outside the womb increasing between 10 and 20 percent with each passing week. By 27 weeks, viability is “presumed,” according to the American Medical Association. Abortionists during the 1990s killed at least 94,680 babies at or beyond 21 weeks of age, according to the CDC. In 1990, doctors in 35 states and New York City aborted 6,574 babies at 21 weeks gestation or later. In 1999, the figure was 8,063.
The pro-abortion Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that abortionists performed 2,200 D&X procedures in 2000; others put the figure at between 4,000 and 5,000. That means D&X abortions kill between one-quarter and one-half of all viable and near-viable aborted babies. D&E abortions kill the rest.
According to an August 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), some physicians prefer D&E over labor-induction methods for second-trimester abortions: “D&E has a lower mortality rate, takes less time, is less expensive, can be done on an outpatient basis, and takes less of a psychological toll on some women because it does not imitate labor.” But other physicians, according to JAMA, prefer to induce labor because they find the labor-induction method “less distasteful.”
That’s no surprise. In an article published by Priests for Life, former abortionist Tony Levatino describes the D&E procedure: “A second trimester D&E abortion is a blind procedure. The baby can be in any orientation or position inside the uterus. Picture yourself reaching in with … [a] clamp and grasping anything you can. … Once you have grasped something inside, squeeze on the clamp to set the jaws and pull hard—really hard. You feel something let go, and out pops a fully formed leg about 4 to 5 inches long. Reach in again and grasp whatever you can ... pull really hard once again, and out pops an arm about the same length. Reach in again and again with that clamp and tear out the spine, intestines, heart and lungs.”
Levatino writes that the toughest part of a D&E abortion is extracting the baby’s plum-sized head, which, at the end of the procedure, is no longer attached to its body, and therefore floats free inside the mother’s womb. “You will know you have it … when you crush down on the clamp and see a pure white gelatinous material issue from the cervix,” Levatino writes. “That was the baby’s brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. If you have a really bad day like I often did, a little face may come out and stare back at you.”
Not only are late second- and third-trimester abortions grisly to read about, they endanger the lives and health of women. Hal Wallis is a Texas gynecologist and former obstetrician who heads the Physicians Consortium, a conservative coalition of state-based physicians groups. He said late second- and third-trimester abortions carry with them an increased risk of infection, bleeding abnormality, and blood loss, and post-delivery retention of the placenta requiring later surgical removal.
“To put it in perspective, if I had someone 22 or 23 weeks along who was miscarrying, she would be admitted to the labor-and-delivery unit, and given care equivalent to labor-and-delivery care because of the danger of it all,” Wallis said. “But abortionists routinely perform these procedures on an outpatient basis.”
In the first six years of the last decade, the number of late-term abortions climbed by almost a third; the numbers declined slightly the rest of the years, but 1999’s total number of late-term abortions was still more than 20 percent higher than 1990’s. Moreover, late abortion as a percentage of all abortion represents a growth industry: In 1990, late abortions accounted for 1 percent of the total abortions reported to the CDC; by 1999, that share grew 50 percent.
The group formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action League did not return WORLD’s call for comment on the increasing trend toward late-term abortion. Neither did the National Abortion Federation, a coalition of abortionists, nor the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the first professional medical association to officially oppose legal restrictions on partial-birth abortion.
That may be because abortions late in the second trimester and in the third trimester are risky for women. According to the August 1998 JAMA article, when abortion occurred at 21 weeks or more, 16.7 per 100,000 women died. That’s two-and-a-half times the risk of maternal death from childbirth, which is 6.7 per 100,000 deliveries. The JAMA article called the difference “not statistically significant,” although the 10 additional families who lose mothers, daughters, and sisters to late abortion probably believe otherwise.
Meanwhile, late-term abortions during the 1990s earned abortionists between $150 million and $200 million.
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