Pro-Lifers Ponder What Partial Birth Abortion Ban Will Accomplish

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - With the ban on partial birth abortion passed by the Senate and destined for both quick passage in the House and the president's promised signature, pro-life activists are looking forward to what the ban could mean in practical terms once it becomes law.

Protected by armed guards, fences and metal detectors, George Tiller is believed by the pro-life community to be one of the "pioneers" of the partial birth abortion procedure. Tiller's "Women's Health Care Services" abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan., boasts of its "national and international reputation for providing the highest quality abortion services."

Tiller and his staff have reportedly performed more partial birth abortions in their approximately 10,000-square-foot facility than any other abortion clinic on earth. According to Tiller's website, they are "specialists in 2nd trimester elective and 2nd/3rd trimester 'therapeutic' abortion[s]."

During a partial birth abortion - which usually takes three days to initiate and complete - the infant is intentionally breech delivered up to his or her neck and then killed by perforating the skull and suctioning out the brain.

"We have an unparalleled record of safey [sic] in late abortion services, and we have more experience in late abortion services over 24 weeks than anyone else currently practicing in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Australia," the site's home page claims.

At a November 1999 conference in Australia, Tiller reported that he had aborted more than 11,500 post-22 week babies since 1980. In his presentation, Tiller said that, of 2,750 abortions performed from 1994 to 1997, 2,051 were because of "maternal health problems," with the remaining 699 done because of "fetal abnormalities." The average age of the unborn children aborted was 27 weeks.

Some pro-life advocates predict that, as a result of the partial birth abortion ban passed by the Senate last week, Tiller may soon find his patient list greatly reduced.

"I've always been accused of being an eternal optimist," said Troy Newman, a pro-life missionary with Operation Rescue West. "I believe firmly that Tiller's days of committing abortions legally are numbered."

Abortionist's Employees 'Not Worried' that He'll Go to Jail

Tiller's employees disagree. Amie Kershner is the finance director for ProKanDo, a pro-abortion state political action committee connected to Tiller. She believes press releases by pro-life groups predicting that Tiller "could be in jail before summer" are wishful thinking.

"No, I'm not worried that my boss will be in jail," she said.

"[No physician is] going to go to jail if it's still in the legal system, which everybody expects it will be," Kershner said, "and it doesn't affect the practice in Kansas whatsoever."

Newman acknowledged that the ban is likely to be argued all the way up to the Supreme Court. He predicted it will take more than just words in a law book to stop so-called "assembly-line abortionists" like Tiller.

"The law is really a paper tiger. There's really no 'teeth' to this law," Newman said. "As soon as they add an exception for the life and health of the mother, you're just not going to see anybody being prosecuted under this, I don't believe."

Previous Attempts to Ban Late-Term Abortions

History supports Newman's analysis. In 1998, the Kansas legislature passed state statute 65-6721, which prohibits partial birth abortions except in limited circumstances:

"No person shall perform or induce a partial birth abortion on a viable fetus unless such person is a physician and has a documented referral from another physician not legally or financially affiliated with the physician performing or inducing the abortion and both physicians determine: (1) The abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman; or (2) A continuation of the pregnancy will cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major physical or mental function of the pregnant woman."

The Kansas Center for Health and Environmental Statistics disseminates reports compiled from mandatory data submitted by abortionists. The 2001 report claims that "no partial birth procedures have been performed in Kansas since October 1999."

But Newman said the law hasn't stopped Tiller from performing third-trimester abortions.

"Even though there is a technical ban here in Kansas for the procedure, he continues to get around it on a technicality," Newman said.

That "technicality" is found in state statute 65-6703, which prohibits abortionists from terminating a "viable fetus" with certain exceptions.

"No person shall perform or induce an abortion when the fetus is viable unless such person is a physician and has a documented referral from another physician not legally or financially affiliated with the physician performing or inducing the abortion and both physicians determine that: (1) The abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman; or (2) A continuation of the pregnancy will cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."

Of the 12,404 abortions Kansas reported in 2001, 635 pregnancies were terminated during or after the 22nd week of pregnancy. In 395 of those (62 percent), the abortionist who performed the procedure reported that the fetus was viable - or could have lived if the child had been delivered rather than being aborted.

In none of those 395 cases did the abortionist claim that ending the life of the viable unborn child was needed "to preserve the life of the pregnant woman."

Tiller continues to perform late-term abortions that would not be affected by the ban, according to Kershner, because he uses a "different medical procedure."

Tiller's website indicates that the "medical procedure" used is the "induction," which he claims to have used in 81.6 percent of the abortions performed between January 1989 and May 2002. To complete the abortion, the poison digoxin is injected into the infant to stop its heart. The abortionist then takes steps to induce labor, which can often take two to three days.

"The baby is viable at this point. We're talking about 28, 30, 32, 36 weeks along," Newman argued. "These babies can easily be removed from the mother."

Newman hopes to see Tiller prosecuted under the state law by a new pro-life attorney general.

Pro-Lifers Hope Ban Will 'Educate' Public and Lawmakers

While Newman seems less than enthusiastic that the federal law will be enforced as Congress intended, he is optimistic that its passage will have a long-term positive effect.

"This sort of legislation really has more of an effect to erode laws currently on the books with Roe v. Wade and also to educate the public and the legislatures, to train them to be pro-life in action and in word," he said. "Perhaps next session, we'll see a piece of legislation banning [dilation and extraction] abortion or suction abortion.

"Ultimately, it's going to mean an end to all abortions," Newman predicted. "The partial birth abortion ban is a huge step in the right direction to end all abortions in America."

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) has threatened a lawsuit if the ban on partial birth abortions becomes law. NAF and other pro-abortion groups oppose the law because it does not contain a so-called "health exception" for the pregnant woman.

Under the definition of "health" mandated by the Supreme Court in Doe v. Bolton, such an exception would justify abortions during all nine months of pregnancy for any mother whose physical, psychological, emotional, familial, educational or financial "health" would be adversely affected by giving birth to the child.

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.