FIRST PERSON: Southern Baptist physician predicts battle for personhood will be ongoing struggle

by William Cutrer, posted Thursday, July 06, 2000 (17 years ago)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--As Jesus approached Jerusalem for that final time during his earthly walk, Scripture records that he wept -- not because the evil of unregenerate humans surprised him, but because he was deeply grieved by it. Such a time is now. We are not surprised, but this is indeed "a time to weep."

The U.S. Supreme Court decided June 28 by the narrowest of margins, 5-4, to reject the ban on partial birth abortions. A few years ago I delivered a lecture to my colleagues in obstetrics and gynecology. I felt certain that among this group of men and women, though diverse in their worldviews and religious beliefs, consensus regarding partial birth abortion was guaranteed. However, as I stated my conviction to the general affirmation of this esteemed audience, one doctor -- a colleague and friend -- raised his hand.

"I don't want the government telling me what I can and can't do," he said. With a smug look on his face, his seemingly simple objection hung like the odor of death in the conference hall.

I asked, "Doctor, has there ever been a time in all your practice when partial birth technique, including cranial decompression while the fetus was alive, was your only option?" Knowing him to be highly skilled and supremely confident, I knew what he would have to say.

"Of course not."

His answer affirmed not only his repertoire of surgical and abortion skills, but also the simple truth that partial birth abortion is not a "necessary" procedure.

As abhorrent as abortion is to me personally in its violation of key ethical principles, I recognize that in our society the "rights and privileges" of the mother have come to take precedence. The nebulous "life and health" of the mother have taken on constitutional significance, without our ever precisely defining "health." Does it mean only a legitimate threat to physical life, or does it include "mental health," depression, and anxiety -- opening wide the doors for abuse?

The battle for personhood and the value of unique individual human life extending to the womb will be an ongoing struggle. I don't expect unregenerate people to think as believers, and even believers can't seem to agree on the precious commodity of life in the image of God at its earliest, one cell stage. But if the womb can be invaded, if the life of innocent infants can be snuffed out for reasons ranging from the mother's survival to her convenience, consider how the procedure can be accomplished.

In partial birth abortion -- often called D&X (Dilation and Extraction) in the medical field -- the mother's cervix is dilated through a number of methods. Ordinarily, not one of these kills the infant, who is then guided into the birth canal. If it isn't breech, it is rotated and delivered feet first, with the head remaining in the birth canal. As the head is the largest part of the baby in diameter, and it has had no time to shape to the birth canal, it will often "get stuck" at the cervix level. It is here that the abortionist inserts long, pointed scissors up to the base of the baby's skull, and then with a thrust, punctures the bone and spreads the scissors to make a wide enough opening for the suction tip. All this is accomplished while the baby is still alive.

The suction tip is then inserted into the hole in the skull made by the scissors. Suction is applied, removing the gelatinous brain substance and decompressing, or "deflating" the head -- allowing for quick delivery. Unbelievable? So it would seem.

Are there alternatives? Certainly, but none any more palatable. One procedure, D&E (Dilation and Evacuation), involves hauling the baby out piecemeal through the cervix, intentionally dismembering the fetus, and crushing the skull for its removal. Precisely when the baby dies during this operation is impossible to say. Delivering second trimester babies by another procedure, prostaglandin induction, often results in a live born child -- unacceptable in the abortion industry. So, there are no "good" options for effecting the baby's death.

In fact, the partial birth procedure exists because it may be easier for the operator to be sure the entire fetus is removed, and there is less risk of puncturing the uterus with bony fragments. In addition, this procedure is quite profitable because abortion fees soar as the pregnancy progresses. Plus, the organs of the infant destroyed in this fashion can be harvested, quite profitably, for "scientific study". This procedure provides the best chance of producing viable organs for research or use in other medical ways. It offers "a chance to do good" for someone -- and line the pockets of others. If the baby were permitted to die before the head decompression took place, some of the organs might be compromised, and that would cost somebody some money. Disgraceful.

The deciding Supreme Court Justice argued that the bill prohibiting this practice had no "exception clause" for the "life and health of the mother." So, these procedures will remain legal, and most people will simply turn away and not give them another thought.

How have we become so desensitized? Why are we not deeply moved by this treatment of tiny humans? Were someone to attack a newborn, even a preemie, and dismember it or suck out its brain, the uproar would be deafening. Christians are praying. Some are lobbying to elect leaders who will change the balance in the Supreme Court, others just trying to get the word out. I support each of these efforts.

It is no surprise that the world fails to see the precious commodity of life. But perhaps, for a moment as we pray and reflect on the millions of lives lost to abortion since Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973, we might be moved to weep. Our country is so desensitized to the tender life of the unborn that we permit devastation of live human flesh -- a sacrifice on the altar of someone's financial advancement. God have mercy.


Cutrer, a licensed OB-Gyn, is C. Edward Gheen's Associate Professor of Christian Ministry and director of the Gheen's Center for Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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