Saline? D&E? Abortionists have deadly options to partial-birth
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--If the federal partial-birth abortion ban survives legal challenges, what other procedures might abortionists use for late-term pregnancies?
While the most high-profile procedure would not be available, abortionists would have other options that would still be legal -- such as using a drug to stop the baby's heart from beating or even dismembering the baby piece by piece within the mother's womb.
The options to partial-birth abortion are no less grotesque and no less deadly, pro-life obstetrician/gynecologist William Cutrer says.
"I think [partial-birth abortion] should be banned. It's barbaric. But dismembering a baby is not less barbaric in my mind," said Cutrer, who serves as medical director of a pro-life crisis pregnancy center in Louisville, Ky., and as Gheens professor of Christian ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Pro-lifers hope that Bush's signing of the ban Nov. 5 will focus the nation's attention on a moral issue that has divided people since the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.
The spotlight on partial-birth abortion was a major social and political victory for pro-lifers, who forced the other side to defend what the majority of Americans view as barbaric: partially delivering a fully viable baby, puncturing her head -- while it is still in the birth canal -- and suctioning out her brains. A "live birth" is thus avoided.
The method, known as dilation and extraction (D&X) among abortionists, is used in the second and third trimesters -- many times when an unborn baby would be viable outside the womb.
But abortionists have other methods for late-term abortions. They are:
-- Dilation and Evacuation (D&E). This involves dilating the cervix, inserting instruments into the uterus and dismembering a baby while it is still in the womb. The abortionist literally pulls out one arm at a time, one leg at a time, until the uterus is empty.
"The first few crushing blows that are dealt are to a live baby, and so the baby dies when critical pieces are dismembered," Cutrer said.
But the procedure, used most often in the second trimester, has one big problem: Tiny parts of the unborn baby, such as bone fragments, are sometimes unintentionally left in the womb, resulting in medical complications. This is one reason D&X (partial-birth abortion) has become so popular.
-- Saline injection. In this method, the abortionist injects a highly concentrated saline solution into the amniotic sac that surrounds the baby. The baby then breathes in the fluid and dies. If labor does not follow automatically, it is then induced.
The method "basically dehydrates them, dries them out," Cutrer said.
In addition to saline, abortion doctors also use a chemical known as urea.
--Intracardiac injections. This involves injecting a drug -- such as digoxin and potassium chloride -- into the unborn baby's heart, thus killing it. Labor is then induced.
The baby's heart is located via a sonogram.
For the abortionist, this procedure "avoids the problem of a live birth and the length of time required for the saline solution to cause the death of the child," Cutrer said.
One Florida abortion clinic, Orlando Women's Center, describes the procedure on its website, saying that it is "administered with strict attention to sterile technique, and takes approximately 3 minutes."
-- Prostaglandin. This is a labor-inducing drug that is sometimes used in hospitals late in a pregnancy when a woman may need to give birth early -- for example, if she has high blood pressure and needs to deliver several days before her due date in order to protect her life.
But abortionists also use the drug to induce labor on babies that may or may not be viable outside the womb. The violent contractions can kill an unborn baby not fully developed.
The downside for abortionists, Cutrer said, is the "risk of having a child that's born alive."
-- Hysterotomy. This is "basically a mini-C section," Cutrer said. The woman's uterus is cut open and the unborn baby is pulled out. The abortionist can kill the unborn baby by clamping the umbilical cord.
Like the prostaglandin procedure, a hysterotomy also provides the abortionist with the "risk" of a "live birth."
Cutrer said the abortionist's goal in a late-term abortion is to "try to deliver the baby" and then "figure out a way for the baby not to be alive."
That may be one of the few areas where Cutrer and abortion doctors agree. Women's Health Care Services, an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan., specializing in late-term abortions, says on its website that the goal is to produce a "premature delivery of a stillborn."
"On the first day of the process, an injection of a medication is made into the baby to assure that it will be stillborn and will not experience any discomfort during the procedure," the website reads.
When Roe v. Wade was written in 1973, it was believed that a baby could not survive outside the womb earlier than the third trimester. But Cutrer notes that medical advances since then have moved viability back into the second trimester. Babies born four months premature have survived.
But the first-trimester methods are no less deadly. Abortionists generally use three methods for early-term abortions:
-- Suction (vacuum aspiration). Suction entails dilating the cervix, then using a small aspirator literally to suck the tiny baby from the uterus. A baby at nine weeks -- a normative age for a first-trimester abortion -- is about one to one and a half inches long; it has arms, legs and organs and its heart has begun beating. The heart, in fact, begins beating around day 24 of the pregnancy.
Cutrer said the method can't be used "much past 12 weeks, because the baby is too big to come through" the aspirator. He said the suction device is about as round as a straw.
-- Dilation and Curettage (D&C). This is similar to the D&E method, but is performed much earlier in the pregnancy. The cervix is dilated and a small metal instrument is inserted to scrape the womb and pull the tiny baby out.
-- RU 486 (the abortion pill). Taken orally, RU 486 works by blocking the progesterone hormone that normally would keep the uterus from expelling the baby during a pregnancy. Thus, RU 486 forces an early miscarriage.
The woman miscarries either at the clinic or at home. Cutrer believes RU 486 will lead to an increase in post-abortive syndrome -- women showing such signs as depression -- because women who miscarry at home will be forced to see the tiny baby they've aborted.
"Those ladies, I suspect, we're going to see a lot more issues with in the years to come," he said. "They will pass and see the baby depending on how far along it is. The emotional trauma can be a bit unnerving."
Abortion clinics generally don't show a woman her aborted baby unless requested.
The pro-life crisis pregnancy center where Cutrer serves offers pregnant women free counseling and medical services -- such as ultrasound. Cutrer, along with other volunteers, tell women the truth about abortion. He said he hopes the focus on partial-birth abortion will not divert attention away from the other deadly methods of abortion.
"[T]hese are also horrible ways for a baby to die," he said. "They're not just as dramatic as having your head punctured."