Lawyer Who Defended Partial Birth Abortion: Dilation and Evacuation ‘A Very Humane Procedure’

By Penny Starr | September 9, 2015 | 9:34pm EDT
Priscilla Smith, director of the program for the study of reproductive justice at Yale Law School, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, September 9, 2015. (Screenshot: House Judiciary Committee)

( – At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday focused on Planned Parenthood’s “horrific abortion practices,” lawyer and professor Priscilla Smith was asked whether she believed abortion was “a humane way to die.”

“I believe for a fetus – a pre-viable fetus – yes, a D&E [Dilation and Evacuation] procedure is a very humane procedure and it protects the woman and her health and safety more than any other procedure,” said Smith.

In 2000, Smith represented late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart in the Stenberg v. Carhart U.S. Supreme Court case, which struck down the state of Nebraska’s law banning the practice of partial birth abortion. She now directs a program on reproductive justice at Yale University.

At Wednesday's hearing committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) cited from Justice Anthony Kennedy's dissent in that Supreme Court case.

“Dr. Carhart agreed that when you pull out a piece of the fetus – let’s say an arm or a leg – and remove that, at the time just prior to the removal of the portion of the fetus, the fetus is alive,” Goodlatte said.

“Dr. Carhart has observed fetal heartbeat via ultrasound with extensive parts of the fetus removed,” Goodlatte went on, still citing from Kennedy's dissent. “And testified that mere dismemberment of a limb does not always cause death because he knows a physician who removed the arm of a fetus only to have the fetus go on to be born as a living child with one arm.”

“At the conclusion of a D&E abortion no intact fetus remains,” Goodlatte said. “In Dr. Carhart’s words, ‘the abortionist is left with a tray full of pieces.’”

Goodlatte noted that Kennedy had said that “the fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb from limb.”

“Ms. Smith do you believe this practice represents a humane way to die?” Goodlatte asked the witness.

After Smith did not answer but spoke about the difference between a pre-viable and viable fetus, Goodlatte pressed her for an answer.

“My question to you is – are you going to answer it – is this a humane way to die?” he asked.

“I believe for a fetus – a pre-viable fetus – yes, a D&E procedure is a very humane procedure and it protects the woman and her health and safety more than any other procedure,” Smith said. “And in fact it was substituted for –”

“I have to say that your view of humanity and mine are different,” Goodlatte interjected.

In 2003, Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which was upheld by the high court in the 2007 Gonzalez v. Carhart ruling.

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