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Lately dead

"Lately dead" Continued...

Issue: "Roe v. Wade turns 40," Jan. 26, 2013

The doctor peered over his glasses. “If you think that doesn’t hurt, if you believe that isn’t an agony for this child, please think again.”

In spite of Levatino’s vivid testimony, the House, in a 220-154 vote on July 31, failed to win a two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill, which would have banned most abortions in the District of Columbia at 20 weeks post-fertilization. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said the bill represented a conservative “war on women,” and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) argued that medical science suggests fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.

Colleen Malloy, a neonatology professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says that’s preposterous. She told me last month that neonatal intensive care staffers, who care for preemies as young as 22 weeks gestation, see the babies react to the prick of an IV needle. Malloy said one study showed an unborn child’s stress hormones rising significantly when doctors draw blood from the baby’s liver, in utero, for medical purposes: “The baby’s flinching and moving, and kind of wincing. … How could anyone say that baby is not feeling pain?”

Malloy said a study published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association claims fetuses under 29 weeks don’t feel pain. One of the study’s authors, Eleanor Drey, is an abortion center director at San Francisco General Hospital, but she did not disclose to journal editors her conflict of interest. ACOG and other opponents of fetal pain laws cited that study, but several neurology experts disputed its conclusion.

Nebraska in 2010 became the first state to outlaw late-term abortions on the grounds that the baby can feel pain after a certain point in its development. Today, nine states have passed laws banning abortion at 18 or 20 weeks post-fertilization, based on the fetal pain argument. (In all, 41 states limit abortions after “viability” or a specific gestational age, with various exceptions for the life or health of the mother.) Texas Right to Life director Elizabeth Graham recently said she was optimistic her state would pass a fetal pain law in 2013.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to overturn new late-term laws in Georgia and Arizona. Late in December a state judge blocked Georgia’s law, and Arizona’s law is also on hold while a federal appeals court considers whether it encroaches on women’s Roe v. Wade rights, as the ACLU argues. The ban in Arizona is stricter than those in most states because it prohibits most abortions starting at 18 weeks post-fertilization.

Pro-life forces won a landmark victory in 2003, when lawmakers in Washington, D.C., passed a national partial-birth abortion ban. Under the law, abortionists face a two-year prison sentence for suctioning out a baby’s brains during birth, unless the mother’s life is in danger.

The law has scared some abortionists into ensuring the baby is dead on arrival. After the ban took effect in 2007, following a series of court challenges, The Boston Globe reported that some hospitals had added a protocol to their abortion procedures as a precaution against accidental live births. The protocol was an injection of lethal drugs, digoxin or potassium chloride, into the fetal heart. (After that, another dose of drugs, given to the mother, starts contractions to expel the dead child.)

Abortion proponents say late-term procedures like these are “rare.” According to the most recent estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 just 1.3 percent of abortions occurred later than 20 weeks following the mother’s last menstrual period. But that “small” percentage is less comfortable after multiplication: Assuming 1.2 million abortions took place in the United States that year, around 15,600 must have occurred after 20 weeks. Forty-three per day.

Late-term limits: Various states restrict abortion at specific gestational ages

abortionmap4.jpgabortionmapkey2.jpg

All state limits include potentially broad exceptions for the health and/or life of the mother. 

“Post-fertilization” is computed two weeks from the mother’s last menstrual period (22 weeks post-fertilization = 24 weeks last menstrual period).

Map data source: Guttmacher Institute

A killer business plan

James Scott Pendergraft currently oversees five abortion centers in Florida, where his medical license is under probation. He is no longer working in association with any doctor’s office in Maryland—or so the Maryland medical board last year informed Operation Rescue.

An inquiry from WORLD, though, suggests Pendergraft is still arranging late-term abortions in the Washington, D.C., area through his website, LateTermAbortion.net. When I asked Pendergraft by email where he refers website clients, he responded from a BlackBerry: “Regarding our referral offices in the D.C. area, we do not disclose their locations due to harassment and intimidation from pro-life groups and a host of others.”

Late-term abortionists find certain states more hospitable for performing their work, either because they have no restrictions on late-term procedures, like Colorado and New Mexico, or because they offer cavernous loopholes for the health of the mother, like Maryland. For example, abortionist LeRoy Carhart, a former associate of George Tiller, moved to Maryland from Nebraska after the latter state passed its fetal pain law.

In a Google search for “late-term abortion,” the Wikipedia entry comes first—and Pendergraft’s website is second. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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