Pro-Lifers Split Over Partial Birth Abortion Ruling

By Whitney Stewart | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a federal ban on partial-birth abortions has failed to satisfy some conservatives, and by some accounts, that ruling has created a split among pro-lifers.

Colorado Right to Life, in an open letter, published this week in the Washington Times, called the Supreme Court's Gonzales v. Carhart decision "one of the most barbaric opinions ever issued by an American court."

"It doesn't happen too often that Christian leaders will celebrate a brutal ruling that describes how to dismember unborn children," Colorado Right to Life spokesman Bob Enyart of the Denver Bible Church said. "So this is a rare opportunity for one part of the pro-life movement to confront the other part."

The letter was addressed to Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. It accuses Dobson, National Right to Life and Christian Coalition of misleading pro-life Christians about the Supreme Court's ruling and concentrating more on political activism than trying to preserve the personhood of the unborn child.

At issue in Gonzales v. Carhart was whether states could ban a procedure in which a doctor pulls the baby from the womb feet first, but before completing the delivery, performs an abortion by stabbing the baby in the skull and sucking out the child's brains.

However, Colorado Right to Life stated in its letter to Dobson that the Supreme Court justices "you misrepresent as 'pro-life' actually suggest other ways for abortionists to kill the fully intact, late-term child to comply with their regulation, such as 'an injection that kills the fetus.'"

But Carrie Gordon Earl, senior director of issue analysis at Focus on the Family, dismissed the letter.

"I think [the letter] elevates this situation beyond what it warrants," she said. "There are few in this nation that can rival [Dobson's] pro-life credentials. This is a man who has dedicated his life to defending the pre-born, so it's really an unjustified attack against him."

Gordon Earl declined to respond to accusations of political maneuvering by Dobson, but called them "illogical and unsubstantiated."

She said the partial-birth abortion debate was unique. "It puts a face on the pre-born child," she said. "It has raised the humanity of the baby and through that, the public has overwhelmingly supported banning it."

Gordon Earl acknowledged loopholes in the decision, but said the court's ruling signified a step forward for the pro-life movement.

She cited several other victories from the ruling, among them that the court recognized the harmful effects of abortion on women and how the ruling has "paved the way" for other federal and state pro-life legislation.

Pro-life activist Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said "the Supreme Court has telegraphed the message to [state legislators and Congress] that they are going to consider more strict bans that would restrict the gruesome nature of the procedures and preserve the life of the unborn child."

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, signed the letter to Dobson. She is dissatisfied with the partial-birth abortion ban that the Supreme Court ruling upheld. The ban is deficient, she said, because it includes an exception clause in cases affecting the health of the mother.

"You can't call a ban a ban with a life of the mother exception," Brown said. "When you have exceptions that permit for rape, incest or life of the mother, you're just a little less pro-choice than the people who call themselves pro-choice."

Acknowledging the philosophical differences, Gordon Earl said that instead of complaining about anything less than total victory, Focus on the Family and similar organizations adopted an incremental approach in the pro-life fight.

Newman agreed, saying that "we got what we settled on."

"That was the art of politics - to get the best you can and then tomorrow, go back for another bite at the apple," he said.

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