The term partial-birth abortion is one way of describing a class of late term abortion of a partially vaginally-delivered fetus or fetuses (see intact dilation and extraction).

This procedure engenders extreme, emotionally-charged controversy, especially within the United States, as both pro-choice and pro-life advocates see the partial-birth abortion debate as a central battleground in the more general abortion debate. Late-term abortions in general, especially beyond the point in pregnancy where the fetus is viable, are also extremely controversial. Partial-birth abortions are a target of pro-life advocates because they believe the procedure most clearly illustrates why abortions, and especially late-term abortions, are immoral. On the other hand, pro-choice advocates believe all decisions regarding pregnancy and abortion should ultimately be made by the pregnant woman and her doctor.

The use of the term partial-birth abortion is a central part of the debate: many pro-choice advocates frequently counter that the phrase is a "non-medical" one, implying that opponents of the procedure are creating propaganda, while pro-life groups point out that the term preferred by the pro-choice camp, "intact dilation & extraction" (see below), was coined by two physicians just over a decade ago and appears in no peer-reviewed journals or medical texts.

Opponents of laws banning partial-birth abortions voice concern that the definition of partial-birth abortion is too vague and that it could have a negative impact on the practice of so-called "reproductive medicine." See: Abortion in the United States.

Proponents of laws banning partial-birth abortion call the procedure immoral (because it kills an otherwise viable baby), and say that it's never medically necessary, seeing it as just another form of abortion-on-demand.

Table of contents
1 Distinction from "intact dilation and extraction"
2 Controversy over Life and Health
3 Law in the United States
4 External links

Distinction from "intact dilation and extraction"

The term is sometimes used interchangeably with the more medical sounding intact dilation and extraction (ID&X), and some claim this usage is misleading or erroneous. "Intact dilation and extraction" specifically covers a range of procedures beyond those defined by legal definitions of "partial-birth abortion." (See HR 1833 below.)

Pro-choice and pro-life groups have tussled over the ethical and legal aspects of the procedure since the early 1990s. As previously stated, pro-choice advocates object to the graphic term "partial-birth abortion," while pro-life advocates prefer it to more clinical terms such as "intact dilation and extraction". The choice of terminology has thus been a major factor in the political battle over the legality and morality of the procedure.

Controversy over Life and Health

Much of the controversy over partial-birth abortion has centered around "life and health" exceptions in proposed partial-birth abortion laws. Pro-choice groups believe that these are vital to preserving a woman's right to freely access necessary health care. During his term, President Clinton twice vetoed partial-birth legislation because he felt it did not adequately address this issue. The Supreme Court likewise struck down as unconstitutional state laws that did not include a health exception. Pro-life advocates were staunchly against including a health exception because they believed that under the current legal definition of "health," mental health could be included, essentially nullifying the law. They now believe that they have adequately addressed this in the most recent version of the legislation (cited below), because they have included with the legislation a large amount of supporting documentation -- including a statement by the American Medical Association -- which they feel demonstrates that there is no medical situation under which this procedure could be used to preserve the physical health of the mother.

Law in the United States

On November 5, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (HR 760, S 3), which defined partial-birth abortions as:

. . . [A]n abortion in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery.

Note that this definition of "partial-birth abortion" is not equivalent to "intact dilation & extraction," and covers a different range of procedures.

External links