Better Middle Than Late

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abortion, Supreme Court

I’ve been reading and listening to comments on nominee Sam Alito, including mention of the Planned Parenthood v. Farmer decision mentioned below. And I’ve noticed that rightie commenters and most “journalists” persistently make a mistake when they talk about this decision. That mistake is to say that the case in question was about a ban on late-term abortion. It was not. It most definitely was not.

The law in question banned “partial-birth” abortion. Anti-privacy forces confuse the issue by insisting that “partial birth” and “late term” mean the same thing. To me “late-term” implies that the pregnancy is almost full term. But the procedure that righties call “partial birth”–intact dilation and extraction (D&X) and dilation and evacuation (D&E)–are procedures performed mostly (if not entirely) in the second trimester, which reasonably would be considered MID term.

According to the written decision, 80 to 90 percent of abortions performed after the first trimester are D&E abortions. These are commonly done between 13 and 20 weeks’ gestation. The D&X is a less common variation of the D&E that involves collapsing the skull and removing the fetal body intact, as opposed to retrieving it in several pieces via a D&E. The D&X variation reduces the risk of cervical laceration and also provides an intact body, which might be required for diagnostic purposes.

These are not the only procedures available for second-trimester abortion. After 16 weeks’ gestation, the most common procedure used is induction, which involves injecting a lethal substance into the uturus and then inducing labor. The fetus might also be removed by hysterotomy, which is like a C-section, and sometimes by hysterectomy–removal of the uturus.

For reference: The second trimester is from weeks 13 to 26. The third trimester is weeks 27 to 42. A fetus is potentially viable only after the 23rd week, and that’s iffy. Babies born after at least 27 weeks’ gestation usually survive. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, only 1.4 percent of abortions in the U.S. are performed after 21 weeks’ gestation. I haven’t been able to find reliable data on third trimester abortions.

Anyway, now that we’ve got the “late-term abortion” nonsense out of the way– like other such laws, the act nullified in Planned Parenthood v. Farmer did not use medical terms, but instead used the term “partial birth abortion,” and defined that term in such a way that physicians testified they couldn’t tell exactly what was being banned. Further, the act appeared to ban abortion procedures on a “living” fetus, meaning a fetus with a discernible heartbeat, which could be as early as seven weeks’ gestation. Not exactly “late-term.”

And, if in fact the law banned only D&E and D&X procedures, it didn’t ban abortions at all, because other procedures are available. The righties never seem to notice that. It’s also beyond belief that righties can’t manage to write a law banning D&E or D&X procedures that might get approved by a court. I believe all they’d have to do is use actual medical terms and definitions and provide a “life or health of the mother” exception. But state legislatures keep passing essentially the same muddled, sloppily worded mess, and courts keep slapping it down. Makes me wonder if they actually don’t want it to become law; they just like putting on a show for the voters.

Regarding Judge Alito’s decision, provided in the last post, he was being clear that he felt it was his duty as a LOWER court judge to find according to existing case law. However, the law in question was a bare-assed attempt to sneak a total abortion ban on the books by means of bad phraseology. Any judge going along with the gag and approving legislation-by-deceit would seem pretty “activist” to me.

Also: From The Mahablog archives–why a “right to privacy” IS in the Constitution.

Update
: Hunter gently explains why he disagrees with a particular conservative talking point. Billmon discusses Alita’s Casey dissent. Digby looks at the “strategy” behind abandoning Roe v. Wade. Fafblog does Hallowe’en. And the Rude One is, well, rude.

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  1. dr. luba  •  Nov 1, 2005 @10:12 am

    In selecting which procedure to perform, given that more than one is appropriate for said patient, the most important factor is which one is SAFEST for that patient. A secondary consideration is which procedure the physician has the most experience with (and thus is most likely to be able to perform safely).

    The right is attempting to criminalize what is often the safest choice of procedures. This shows their hatred of women better than anything else.

    Remember our battle cry “Keep abortion safe and legal”. They’d make it unsafe and illegal, just to punish women. Uppity women, the worst kind.

    Bastards.

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