“If there is no transcendent truth… then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people.”
—John Paul II in The Splendor of Truth
“The abortion regime was born in lies.”
It is critical to the quality of our public life and discourse that we remain faithful to the truth. The attempt to preserve partial-birth abortion as a legal procedure has been rooted in falsehood — not unlike the abortion industry itself.
Before discussing these falsehoods, however, I would reiterate what we know to be the truth about partial-birth abortion. Partial-birth abortion is a horrific procedure. It is a practice whereby a fully formed, often viable, infant is pulled from the mother's womb until all but the head has been delivered. A pair of scissors is then jammed into the base of the baby's skull and a tube inserted to suction the brains out, so that the head of the now-dead infant collapses. This procedure is performed thousands of times across the country on healthy babies of healthy mothers.
We know that partial-birth abortion is not medically necessary. Indeed, The American Medical Association (AMA) endorsed legislation banning the practice. As AMA president Doctor Daniel Johnson wrote in The New York Times last year:
“Our reasons for supporting the bill (H.R. 1122, The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act) are people: the partial delivery of a living fetus for the purpose of killing it outside the womb is ethically offensive to most Americans and physicians. Our panel could not find any identified circumstance in which the procedure was the only safe and effective abortion method.”
We also know that partial-birth abortion poses serious risks to the moth-er's health and future fertility. Complications such as infection, perforation of the uterus, or hemorrhaging can result from this procedure. And partial-birth abortions are not performed in hospitals or emergency rooms. They are performed as out-patient procedures in doctors’ offices or clinics, thus removing a woman even further from the normal protections of a more medically controlled environment.
Only lies could sustain partial-birth abortion as a lawful practice. Perhaps the most egregious lie is the claim that this rogue practice is medically necessary when the health of the mother or fetus is in question. Indeed, President Clinton has twice vetoed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act because it did not contain a “health of the mother” exception. But if there is no medical necessity for the procedure, why would we need a health exception? This is a question to which defenders of partial-birth abortion have not yet responded — despite more than two years of public debate on this topic. Indeed, a coalition group of doctors formed specifically in response to the disturbing medical falsehoods circulated about partial-birth abortion has said that:
."..the partial-birth abortion procedure, as described by Doctor Martin Haskell (the nation's leading practitioner of the procedure) and defined in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act… is never medically indicated and can itself pose serious risks to the health and future fertility of women. There are simply no obstetrical situations encountered in this country which require a partially-delivered human fetus to be destroyed to preserve the life, health, or future fertility of the mother.”
Lies were also required to minimize the incidence of partial-birth abortions. Defenders claimed that this procedure was performed only a few hundred times a year. In fact, one of those defenders, Ron Fitzsimmons, director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted last year that — contrary to what he and others originally said — up to 5,000 a year are performed.
Twice, in 1996 and 1997, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate voted by decisive majorities to pass a law banning partial-birth abortions. Twice, this legislation has been presented to and vetoed by President Clinton, thus preventing it from becoming law. We already have attempted to override the president's veto once. Each successive time Congress has voted on the ban, votes cast in favor of it have increased. In mid-September the Senate will vote again on this legislation in an attempt to override the President's veto by the required two-thirds majority. (The House already has overridden the president's veto.) We are currently three votes short of the necessary 67; supporters of the ban are hopeful that the truth about this procedure will persuade additional members so that the ban can, finally, become law.
The goal of our public life should be the pursuit of justice. We cannot pursue — nor achieve — justice through falsehoods. We undermine the very power and authority of our laws if they are not rooted in truth. A decisive consensus has formed in response to the truth about partial-birth abortions. It is now time for our laws to faithfully reflect that consensus and to speak decisively to this truth.
Rick Santorum is a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.