Analysis

Dismemberment abortion: misleading rhetoric or accurate description?

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On January 22, a Kansas court struck down a law banning, with few exceptions, a procedure identified as “dismemberment abortion,” and described as follows:

“Dismemberment abortion’’ means, with the purpose of causing the death of an unborn child, knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus through the use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slice, crush or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body in order to cut or rip it off.

Media outlets were quick to claim that the term “dismemberment abortion” originated in the pro-life camp:

The first-in-the-nation law would have banned a process that abortion rights opponents call “dismemberment abortion” and that reproductive health advocates call dilation and evacuation. (Huffington Post)

Kansas law calls the banned method “dismemberment abortion,” echoing a description coined by anti-abortion groups. (ABC News and US News)

 However, while it is true that abortionists do not advertise “dismemberment abortions” on their brochures and websites, they do indeed use this language to describe the procedure. The following statements, compiled by Priests for Life, demonstrate that the D&E procedure is routinely described by abortionists as a “dismemberment” procedure:

 In the dismemberment D&E … it is necessary to insert our forceps … and then crush the head. (Carolyn Westhoff , National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft, US District Court, Southern District of New York, 2004)

 Let’s just say … we left the leg in the uterus just to dismember it. Well, we’d probably have to dismember it at several different levels because we don’t have firm control over it, so we would attack the lower part of the lower extremity first, remove, you know, possibly a foot, then the lower leg at the knee and then finally we get to the hip. And typically when the abortion procedure is started we typically know that the fetus is still alive because either we can feel it move as we’re making our initial grasps or if we’re using some ultrasound visualization when we actually see a heartbeat as we’re starting the procedure.

It’s not unusual at the start of D&E procedures that a limb is acquired first…prior to anything having been done that would have caused the fetal demise. … When you’re doing a dismemberment D&E, usually the last part to be removed is the skull itself and it’s floating free inside the uterine cavity … So it’s rather like a ping-pong ball floating around and the surgeon is using his forceps to reach up to try to grasp something that’s freely floating around … So typically there’s several misdirections, misattempts to grasp.

Finally … the skull is brought out in fragments rather than as a unified piece. (Martin Haskell, US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Case No. 98-C-0305-S, 1999)

The procedure changes significantly at 21 weeks because the fetal tissues become much more cohesive and difficult to dismember. This problem is accentuated by the fact that the fetal pelvis may be as much as 5cm in width. The calvaria [head] is no longer the principal problem; it can be collapsed. Other structures, such as the pelvis, present more difficulty … A long curved Mayo scissors may be necessary to decapitate and dismember the fetus. (Warren Hern, medical textbook Abortion Practice, page 154)

 When pro-life people refer to the D&E procedure as a “dismemberment abortion,” they are not resorting to misleading rhetoric. They are using the same terminology employed in the abortion industry.

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