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John Whitehead's Commentary

Partial Birth Abortion, Pandora's Box and the End of Humanity

John Whitehead
Abortion-rights activists have pledged to legally challenge the Partial Birth Abortion Ban as soon as President Bush signs it into law. Yet there are some things so evil that, even in a world filled with immense suffering, it is almost incomprehensible that they exist in a so-called civilized society. What's more, such evils should be opposed by every person who claims to be a champion of human rights. Partial birth abortion is one such evil.

From the beginning, the implications of the culture that was to follow the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade were disturbing. If human beings--unborn babies in the case of Roe v. Wade--can be defined as no longer part of humanity, then they have no rights. Thus, they may lawfully be disposed of or treated in a manner that serves the purpose of the day. Indeed, if unborn children are "protoplasmic rubbish" or "gobbets of meat protruding from human wombs," as we have been told by the pro-choice lobby, then such base and vile procedures as partial birth abortion are to be expected.

Yet the Roe redefinition of human life has moved beyond the theoretical and been readily accepted by the medical profession, opening a Pandora's Box of horror once unimaginable.

Indeed, a mere six months after the decision in Roe v. Wade, Peter A. J. Adam, an associate professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, reported to the American Pediatric Research Society on research that he and his associates had conducted on 12 pre-born babies up to 20 weeks old who had survived hysterotomy abortions. Cutting the heads off the tiny babies, these scientists placed tubes in the main arteries feeding their brains. The researchers kept the heads of these babies alive, much as the Russians kept dogs' heads alive in the 1950s. In response to concerns raised about this "research," Dr. Adams said, "Once society's declared a fetus dead, and abrogated its rights, I don't see any ethical problem... Whose rights are we going to protect, once we've decided the fetus won't live?"

The experimentation on live babies is not something that has only happened in a few isolated instances. It is much more widespread than that. And it is grisly. This can be seen in the "research" conducted by Finnish Dr. Martii Kekomaki in the late 1970s. One nurse who observed Kekomaki's experiments on live aborted babies said, "The doctors took the fetus and cut its belly open. They said they wanted the liver. They carried the baby out of the incubator and it was still alive. It was a boy. It had a complete body, with hands, feet, mouth and ears. It was even secreting urine."

The baby was not injected with an anesthetic before doctors sliced his belly open. Asked to explain the implications of his research, Kekomaki said, "An aborted baby is just garbage."

Doors in the United States have opened wide since the Roe case. In fact, within a few short years, we were no longer merely talking about women's rights--the issue had shifted to harvesting aborted babies. President Bill Clinton expanded the Roe philosophy in January 1993 when he lifted the ban on federal funding of fetal tissue research, meaning that tax monies could and would be spent on research using tissue collected from aborted fetuses. Thus, the federal government and taxpayers were forced into a relationship with abortion clinics that were harvesting fetal tissue for experimental research.

Various state and federal provisions have regulated government research involving aborted fetuses since Roe, and the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (adopted in all 50 states between 1969 and 1973) permits the donation of a dead fetus for research or therapeutic purposes. The matter of fetal tissue experimentation, however, was renewed inasmuch as new abortion techniques made it possible to "harvest" tissue and/or organs from a baby who is not yet "born" but who is not yet dead.

One such late-term abortion technique is that of "D&X" (dilation and extraction), also known in the popular vernacular as partial birth abortion. Ultrasound is used in second- and third-trimester abortions to identify how the unborn child is oriented. The doctor then pulls the child's legs and torso out of the uterus, hooks his index and ring fingers over the baby's shoulders and uses his middle finger to hold the woman's cervix away from the baby's neck. He then takes a pair of blunt-tipped surgical scissors and, after locating the base of the baby's skull, removes the brain from the still-alive child.

Another method involves the use of specially-designed tools to dismember the baby and crush its skull. This is all done without fetal anesthetic.

Some states have moved to restrict these horrific procedures. However, one such state law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. Now that both houses of Congress, after contentious debate, have voted to outlaw partial birth abortion, it awaits only President Bush's signature to become law, which he has promised to do. This federal law would prohibit physicians from performing partial birth abortions except in cases where the mother's life is endangered by a physical condition caused by the pregnancy. Such laws were twice vetoed by President Clinton; similar state bans have been struck down by various courts in 21 cases. It remains to be seen how the courts will deal with a legal challenge to this federal legislation.

One thing is certain, however: We have traveled a long road since 1973--one paved with the blood and body parts of small children. With fetal experimentation, a final vista has been crossed. The definition of what is human has been blurred. And this time, if we do not recoil from these horrific practices, there may be no turning back. As author C. S. Lewis once wrote, he would not do "to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself."

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His most recent books are the best-selling Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, and a debut dystopian fiction novel, The Erik Blair Diaries. Whitehead can be contacted at Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at

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