The debate over partial-birth abortion has produced many “firsts.” The first time an abortion advocate publicly admitted that he was lying “through his teeth.” The first time newspapers paid any attention to such lies. And the first time the American Medical Association came out specifically against a particular type of abortion.

Now comes another first, this time from the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is an article about partial-birth abortion that stresses three matters rarely, if ever, raised in popular, let alone professional circles: the lack of medical indication for late abortions; the physical harm to women caused by abortion; and the awful pain late-abortion inflicts on the nearly-born child. It is particularly significant that this article is written by doctors in a medical journal, as public opinion surveys have long shown that Americans find doctors more credible than anyone else who speaks on abortion.

On the subject of the often repeated claim that some women “must have” late-abortions or lose their life or health, the authors, M. LeRoy Sprang MD and Mark Neerhof DO, are refreshingly honest. They state: “Maternal health factors demanding pregnancy termination in the periviable period [when the child can live outside the womb, albeit sometimes with medical intervention] can almost always be accommodated without sacrificing the fetus and without compromising maternal well-being. The high probability of fetal intact survival beyond the periviable period argues for ending the pregnancy through appropriate delivery.” Referring to the partial-birth procedure, they conclude “an extraordinary medical consensus has emerged” that this procedure is “neither necessary nor the safest method of late-term abortion.”

Responding to the claim made by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — a fierce opponent on Capitol Hill of the partial-birth ban — that the partial-birth procedure may “in a particular circumstance” be the “best or most appropriate procedure,” Drs. Sprang and Neerhof reply: “No specific examples of circumstances under which intact D&X would be the most appropriate procedure were given.” Furthermore, they say, “there exist no credible studies on intact D&X [one medical name for the procedure] that evaluate or attest to its safety. The procedure is not recognized in medical textbooks nor is it taught in medical schools or in obstetrics and gynecology residencies.”

It is significant that this article is written in a medical journal, as public opinion surveys have long shown that Americans find doctors more credible than anyone else who speaks on abortion.

A second invisible topic in the public abortion debate is also highlighted in this journal article: abortion's dangers to women. The authors survey the literature about the dangers of all late abortions; these account for 10%-20% of all abortions performed in the United States, but 66% of the maternal injuries from abortion. Late abortions can cause death, hemorrhage, laceration of the cervix, permanent infertility, pelvic infections, etc. Late abortions are twice as dangerous as childbirth.

And partial-birth abortions are uniquely dangerous. The authors cite the bible of obstetrics, Williams Obstetrics: “There are very few, if any, indications for [forcing a breech birth]/internal podalic version other than for delivery of a second twin.” Risks include rupturing the uterus and forcing into the mother's bloodstream foreign — and fatal — matter from the baby's body. Yet proponents of the partial-birth procedure claim that forcing a breech delivery is a health benefit to women! Partial-birth abortion further risks lacerating the mother's uterus — causing possibly fatal blood loss — by the “blind procedure” of forcing scissors into the “base of the fetal skull while it is lodged in the birth canal.”

The other subject Drs. Sprang and Neerhof discuss in their article that one never hears in the public square is the excruciating pain infants feel while they are being aborted. In their own words:

“The majority of intact D&X procedures are performed on periviable fetuses. When infants of similar gestational ages are delivered, pain management is an important part of the care rendered to them in the intensive care nursery. However, with intact D&X, pain management is not provided for the fetus, who is literally within inches of being delivered. Forcibly incising the cranium with a scissors and then suctioning out the intracranial contents is certainly excruciatingly painful. It is beyond ironic that the pain management practiced for an intact D&X on a human fetus would not meet federal standards for the humane care of animals used in medical research.”

A plethora of medical literature is footnoted to verify their conclusions, horrid as they are to contemplate. In fact, medical research is demonstrating internationally how acutely sensitive the unborn are to pain. This very month, the government of Britain is drafting regulations which would require the administration of pain killers to unborn children of 18 weeks’ gestation or older, who undergo fetal surgery or abortion.

Abortion itself. That's the one topic so rarely discussed in the open in the course of the abortion debate. That is, until the abortion industry finally managed to shock America's conscience by embracing infanticide.

Helen Alvaré is director of planning and information, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.