Factual question about partial birth

So, pending the President’s signature, partial birth abortion is now illegal. Without expressing any opinion one way or the other, my question is: how many elective PBA’a happened in the US before this, per annum? In other words, how big a difference is this really going to make? Both sides seem to be treating this like a huge deal, but it seems mostly political to me. Shock value for the right, slippery slope for the left. What will really change in this country once the bill gets signed into law? How many people will this affect immediately?

About 1% of all abortions are partial birth abortions.

The whole thing is about the slippery slope. In this case I think it is real and not imagined. Pro-life advocates want no abortions performed whatsoever. In the absence of an outright ban (which would require a change on Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment) they have to settle for chipping away when and where they can. For the pro-choice side they understandably see this as a whittling away at the issue.

Partial birth abortions evoke a lot of emotion given their very nature (rather gruesome). As the 1% figure shows however they are relatively rare. Further, they are almost always done only in extreme circumstances (e.g. life of the mother is at stake). I am not aware of any doctor or abortion clinic that will do a later term abortion simply because the mother for some reason wants one at that late date. I won’t say it never happens but I feel would feel safe in betting that it is extremely rare one is done with no compelling medical reason for the procedure.

From wednesday’s USA today, available here online. That’s about a tenth of one percent of all abortions. However, many complain that the law is vague. That means the number of abortions affected is hard to predict, because it depends on how the law is interpreted.

Some more info:
Another USA Article mentioning the vagueness of the law
A doctor’s take on it

Thank you Wack-A-Mole for your highly political reply.

According to the “National Right to Life” folks, Kansas is the only state that keeps detailed info on PBAs. Here’s some info. (Questions 17 and 18 are rather, um, interesting.)


Kansas represents about 1% of the US population. If it’s a representative sample, then that would put the total number annually at about 18,000, much closer to the 1% figure than the 1/10 of 1% figure.

Another problem with a factual answer to this question is that one of the major providers of PBAs has admitted that he lied about how common they were, in his testimony before Congress.

This has the unfortunate effect of casting suspicion on the estimates of others with a vested interest in continuing to perform this procedure.

Cites available on request.


Whack-a-Mole, since you brought it up, please tell us what life threatening situation might be avoided by a PBA. I was under the impression that a PBA is quite invasive and dangerous, and that incidents are more common during this procedure than during live birth.

Shodan, alright, I`ll bite…Cites?

That’s exactly what I was wondering my self whuckfistle. Not knowing that much about pregnancy, I’ve never totally understood situations in which either the mother or child can live, but not both, but it seems like in a partial birth abortion the baby only has to move a few more inches and it’s out. (I assume the head is left in so that a birth has not technically/legally taken place.)

I am not aware of any doctor or abortion clinic that will do a later term abortion simply because the mother for some reason wants one at that late date.

Georgia was doing them in the early to mid 90s. I know because a college friend had one done in the 7th month. It was not for a medical reason, either.

Medical circumstances for a PBA (Until someone with more background comes along): When the fetus has hydrocephalus, so the head is too large to pass through the pelvis, mother and child would both die without intervention.

What’s political about my reply? I don’t think the right-to-life movement would deny that they seek to stop abortions in any form in any way (legally) that they can. They’d like to see a 100% end to all of them. The laws are currently arranged to prevent that so while they fight the overall war they are happy to take small victories when and where they can. If you are pro-life there is no need to be apologetic about this approach. It is eminently sensible.

The flip side the pro-choice movement sees a slippery slope. Each little bit that erodes a woman’s options and freedom to choose takes everyone one step closer to the day when the choice is gone entirely. That doesn’t mean they necessarily support anything pro-choice no matter how awful it is but on the whole they do not see PBAs as the boogey-man it is made out to be.

You see the same sort of behavior elsewhere such as in the gun control debate. I suppose my disdain for this hullaballoo over PBAs showed through somewhat as I feel a mountain was made out of a mole hill (relativley speaking when compared to the overall abortion debate).

As to how a woman might be injured by giving birth such that a PBA is seem as preferable I do not know myself and am only parroting what I have seen written. I just sent an e-mail to my brother-in-law who is an OB/GYN asking him as I figure he’d probably know (and of course MaryEFoo provided one possibility).

Caesarian section.

Just plain false.

From here.

Two sides to every coin, and all that. (Although for an issue like this, it’s more like a 30-sided die)

By the way, are there any numbers/figures for the leading reasons given (Like hydrocephalus of the fetus, or even just birth control) for performing a LTA?

I mean, it seems like it’s a pretty involved procedure performed at a pretty late stage of pregnancy…not exactly something most women’d run out to have, on a lark.

A personal sidelight. When I was born, the obstetrician performed an episiotomy to enlarge the opening to accomodate my large head. It was a rare enough procedure that other medical personnel were called into to observe it. My parents told me later that at birth my head was the size of an average four year old’s. I replied, “You mean, a four month old’s.” And my mother, who majored in child development, and my father, a physician, said, “No, your head was the size of an average four year old’s.”

An episiotomy is fairly common. I personally know three mothers that have had this done. It doesn`t make the canal larger, it merely prevents the opening of the vagina from tearing.

You may be technically correct but I think in practice what I said holds true more often than not.

Some pro-life advocates will mitigate their stance and allow for abortions to be performed in the case of rape, incest and overt danger to the mother. However, there is a strong contigent out there that view any abortion, ever, as morally wrong and would like to see all abortions outlawed. I also suspect that some of the contingent who allow for abortions in rape/incest/life threatening cases do so out of practical considerations to see their agenda advanced rather than a real belief in that stance. If they want to win the fence sitters on this issue to their way of thinking a somewhat more moderate approach in allowing abortions in special circumstances only aids their cause. Undoubtedly some pro-life advocates truly do think abortion in the listed circumstances should be allowed but in some ways that is disingenuous. If a pro-life advoacte holds that life is sacred and begins at conception and that an abortion in murder then there can be no circumstances in which an abortion is “ok”.

At least that is my understanding of that side of this issue. If there are other alternatives I’d be interested in hearing them.

When I was pregnant, episiotomies were pretty much standard. It was very rare to find a mother who had NOT had one.

Hi, whuckfistle -

Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted to the New York Times on Feb. 26, 1997, that he lied about the number and circumstances of PBAs performed in his statement on Nightline. He claimed it was performed “rarely” and “only on women whose lives were in danger, or whose fetuses were damaged.” Cite.

I posted that he had done so during testimony before Congress. This was incorrect, and I regret the error.


Also, for a hydrocephalitic (sp?) infant - what would its quality of life be? Is this a condition they “grow out of” as it were to become completely normal children, or is it a more severe affliction, accompanied by years of special care, markedly reduced ability and cognitive functions, frequent hospitalization, and early death?

If the latter is the case (as I suspect it might be), there are parents that might choose abortion rather than subject a child to that life. I’m not saying that choice is right or wrong, nor am I trying to diminish parents who raise developmentally disabled children (quite the opposite - these parents are amazing people with incredible abilities, as are their children). I’m just saying it’s a choice that some parents would make when faced with such a situation. Especially if the symptoms are very severe.

My friend and former roomie in college got her masters in genetic councelling. While she may not agree with it personally, she’s told me that in the situations through which she councils parents who are faced with genetic problems in the children they carry, abortion is always an option. Because sometimes that life is just too much to put a child through.

Just sayin’.