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Load of Belshe: The necessary limits of abortion

Illustration By Arnie Bermudez
By Tim Belshe
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 1, 2004
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The first round of lawsuits against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act have been filed, and it's time we take a look at what this procedure really is and what merit, if any, there may be to these appeals.

First, let's go over what a so-called partial-birth abortion - or "dilate and extract" (D and X), the medical term for the procedure - actually is.

D and X is performed in the second or third trimester of a pregnancy. By that time, other forms of abortion are usually not feasible because of the size of the fetus. The procedure basically entails dilating the mother's cervix, pulling the fetus partially out of the mother, feet first, then puncturing the fetus' skull and vacuuming out its brain. I'm not making this up, folks; that's really what happens.

The opposition to the partial-birth abortion ban seems to hinge on two main issues: First, the language of the law is vague and could lead to a reversal of Roe v. Wade, and second, the law does not provide an exception for allowing the procedure when it's in the best interest of the mother's health.

Let's take a look at the mother's health issue first. I'm not a doctor, and a Boy Scout first aid class is the extent of my formal medical training. But I don't know how the opponents of this law plan to convince a judge, or even any clear-thinking adult, that pulling a fetus halfway out of a mother and holding it there while you kill it is better for the mother's health than just completely removing the fetus. It seems to me that if the pregnancy were really a threat to the mother's health, you'd want to get the fetus out of the mother as quickly as possible. Plus, there's got to be some risk, even if it is minute, that the procedure could injure the mother. So why not just pull the fetus out, essentially letting the mother give birth, and be done with it?

Of course, it's likely the child will have significant medical issues as a result of being born so premature. But you were going to kill it anyway, so why not at least give it a fighting chance? Depending on the development of the fetus at the time of the procedure, the child may not even live very long after being removed from the mother. But at least if the child is out of the mother, doctors will probably be able to give the child some kind of treatment.

As for the language of this law, the pro-choice camp, of which I happen to be a member, is just going to have to accept some limitations to its rights. It's going to take a lot more than a single "vague" law to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Besides, if gun owners - who have a constitutional amendment guaranteeing their rights - have to accept limitations on what weapons they can own, what chance does the pro-choice group, which doesn't have any specific guarantee of its rights in the constitution, have of beating this?

It's not like this law will completely end all abortions in this country. It just outlaws a single procedure. I don't think it's the least bit unreasonable to expect would-be parents to make their decision earlier in the pregnancy, when an abortion can be performed using procedures that carry less risk to the mother.

Abortion is something that, while it should remain legal in some forms, should not be encouraged. Aside from whatever moral or religious issues you may have with it, you have to admit that abortion has serious psychological, and sometimes physical, repercussions on the woman. While it's a choice that should be left to the potential parents, all other alternatives ought to be considered and exhausted before any abortion takes place. That's not to say people should be legally required to do anything before having an abortion, just that the common sensibility of a human being would demand it before undergoing such a serious procedure.

That said, the partial-birth abortion ban is a good law. It puts an appropriate limit on an unfortunate part of life in this country that needs to be addressed. The opposition to this law is, at the moment, misguided. I'm sure that eventually someone will take a serious shot at making all abortions illegal. Until that day comes, the pro-choice camp should save its energy.

Tim Belshe is a systems engineering junior. He can be reached at

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