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Partial Birth Abortion: The Truth

March 11, 1997 — Joint Hearing Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House Committee on the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, Washington DC


Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I indeed welcome the opportunity to bring NARAL’s perspective to this debate, one with enormous consequences for American women’s reproductive health and privacy — and, for some women, their very lives.

Whether the number of women whose doctors recommend this procedure is five, five hundred, or five thousand a year, each and every one of these numbers represents the real life of an individual woman. A wife. A mother. A daughter. A sister. Many facing agonizing circumstances. And under your legislation, each and every one of them would be denied the treatment her doctor believed to be the safest and most appropriate for her.

This debate must focus on the lives of those women. And it requires discussing the hazards this legislation would pose to the health of American women, and to their constitutionally protected reproductive choices.

For the record, I think it important to note that ninety-nine percent of all abortions in this country are performed prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure at issue today here is essentially a subset of that other one percent of abortions. It is rare.

But a federal ban on even this rare abortion method also poses an unprecedented threat to a woman’s constitutional right of choice. The law of the land for the past 24 years, Roe v. Wade, has been a careful, careful balance between the right of a woman to choose and the right of a state to protect potential life. This legislation is a threat, too, to women’s health — putting politics above the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship.

We as a society — and as a nation of laws — have asked the question “who decides?” for more than a generation now. Time and time again, the majority of Americans have agreed that only a woman, consistent with her moral and ethical values, should make that decision along with her family and her physician.  NARAL has worked to protect that choice. Consistent with Roe, we’ve kept government officials out of this most profound and intimate territory.

Under Roe v. Wade, prior to the point at which a fetus can live outside the woman, decisions about her pregnancy are beyond the reach of politicians and bureaucrats. These choices are personal and private under the U.S. Constitution. After viability, the Roe decision says that a state may “regulate, and even proscribe, abortion” except when a woman’s life or health is threatened. This federal ban — without any concern for a woman’s health or her privacy — rejects the very basic principles of Roe.

Senator Hatch, you and Congressman Hyde and Congressman Canady, you all have strong records — based on deeply held convictions — opposing a woman’s right to choose at any time during pregnancy, under any circumstance, using any procedure. You believe that Roe v. Wade was fundamentally wrong, that politicians and government officials should control decisions now made by women, their families, and their doctors.

But let me address myself for a moment to those members of Congress whose minds are open, who fundamentally believe in the principles of Roe, but are uncomfortable with what they’ve heard about the procedure at issue today. As you think about your vote on this legislation, there are two crucial questions I urge you to consider: first, are you ready, as a member of Congress, to dictate medical decisions surrounding this constitutionally protected choice, even, even when a doctor considers this procedure the safest and most medically appropriate? And second, does this legislation protect the lives and the health of those women whose wanted pregnancies have become medical nightmares?

In our nation of laws, legislation profoundly affects the lives of individuals. Listen to the testimony of Coreen Costello, a California homemaker who addressed your subcommittee last year, Congressman Canady. She is a conservative Republican, a deeply religious Christian, personally opposed to abortion. Yet in the seventh month of her pregnancy, she discovered that the child she was carrying had a lethal neuromuscular problem.

Her doctor recommended terminating the pregnancy to preserve her health, and, very reluctantly, the Costellos came over a period of weeks to agree. Her obstetrician advised that the safest way to end this tragedy was the very procedure your legislation would outlaw. As Coreen testified last year, and I quote: ‘Because of the safety of this procedure, I will have another baby in June. If you outlaw this surgical procedure, other women like me will be denied that gift, that joy. They may lose their ability to have more children — they may lose their health; indeed they may lose their lives.”

With all due respect, Senator, and members of the committee, is that a choice you should be making, instead of Coreen Costello’s doctor?

For 25 years we have raised and maintained a standard on which women, their doctors and their families could rely. Are we now prepared as a nation to tear down that standard and place this most personal decision in the hands of politicians? Thank you.



Source: Michelman, Kate. “Partial Birth Abortion.” Joint Hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House Committee on the Judiciary. 105th Congress, 1st session. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997, 19-20.