Headline-making Abortion Method Not So New

NEW YORK—An abortion method that made headlines just before Christmas and is being promoted by Planned Parenthood as an innovation that allows doctors to perform abortions only days after conception is not all that new, according to Dr. Bernard Nathanson.

A pioneer in the abortion industry before converting to the pro-life camp, Nathanson said he used a similar method in 1969 and taught other doctors to do so before they abandoned such early abortions because of the high risk of complications. Even the addition of modern ultrasound imaging, which seeks to locate the gestational sac that holds the newly conceived child, does not make early abortion significantly safer, he told the REGISTER.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson calls ‘manual vacuum aspiration’ a ploy to divert attention from partial-birth abortion

Planned Parenthood's recent fanfare about the early method, called “manual vacuum aspiration,” is little more than a public relations ploy to divert attention from the country's growing distaste for late-term abortions, Nathanson said. The number of “pro-choice” members of Congress who voted for bans on the so-called “partial-birth abortion” procedure has caused a desperate effort among abortion advocates to reassure politicians and the public that abortion can now be done before a woman even misses her first menstrual period, he said.

A statement by Dr. Michael Burnhill, Planned Parenthood's vice president for medical affairs, seems to support Nathanson's claim.

“With these very early abortions, we're talking about a whole gestational sac that's the size of a match stick head. It's nobody's picture of a little baby sucking its thumb,” Burnhill recently told The New York Times.

Whether done early or late, Catholic ethicists point out, the direct and intentional killing of life in the womb is always wrong.

The Vatican responded quickly last month to reports of the abortion method. Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, stated that early abortion threatens “to anesthetize consciences” by killing new life that can hardly be seen or felt. Although the technique may appear to be another form of contraception that can save a woman from the pain of abortion, the bishop said, “these are authentic abortions.”

“It's the same sin. The gravity of the act remains the same,” said Father John Bonnici, head of the Family Life-Respect Life Office for the New York archdiocese. “What is unfortunate is that the ease of this procedure makes it seem that everything will be all right. But it's still a decision to destroy one's own child.”

Admitting that the technique may seem to blur the line between abortion and contraception, Judie Brown, president of American Life League, said that this is an opportunity to educate the public that many contraceptives are actually abortifacients. The “pill” and intrauterine devices (IUDs) can be dangerous not only to women, she noted, and they can cause abortion at very early stages by making the uterine wall hostile to implantation of a days-old embryo.

She added, “The contraceptive mentality grows into an abortion, anti-life conception. The pro-life movement has failed to stress this to its great detriment. Planned Parenthood has just shown us why this has been a grave mistake.”

The early-abortion method, available so far in only two dozen Planned Parenthood facilities across the country, uses ultrasound to locate the tiny gestational sac and a hand-held syringe that is inserted through the birth canal into the uterus to remove the sac and surrounding material. When the extracted material is placed in water, the spongy sac floats to the surface and the abortion is verified. The entire procedure takes a few minutes.

Abortion advocates have stated that the hand-held syringe avoids the noise of the suction machine used in later abortions and is popular at facilities in developing countries, where access to electricity may be limited.

Dr. Jerry Edwards, medical director at Planned Parenthood who developed the early-abortion method with ultrasound, claims to have performed 2,400 such procedures since 1994. He states that complications previously associated with early abortion have not been found and predicts a new age in the abortion industry, as more women gain knowledge of the advantages of the procedure.

Nathanson disagrees. Recalling his own experience with early abortions, he said that Planned Parenthood is “exhuming a ghost.”

“We did this in 1969 and called it menstrual extraction. The one added feature is that today they use ultrasound to locate the gestational sac.”

Although ultrasound is effective in locating the developing child four weeks after conception, at earlier stages, he warned, “it can be tricky and misleading.”

There is enough gray area in the method to give most physicians pause even today, just as he and fellow abortionists shied away from menstrual extraction in the 1960s to develop more efficient methods of surgical abortion, Nathanson said.

“Medically, the problems are very much the same” with or without ultrasound. “My own feeling is that most abortionists are not going to change their methods because it's much safer to do surgical abortions at six to eight weeks' gestation.”

A prime example of the faulty information being promulgated by abortion advocates was seen in a New York Times article last month about the “new” early method. The article made much of the fact that the extracted uterine contents are floated to isolate the gestational sac. If the sac is not detected, the possibility exists that there is no pregnancy or the procedure failed to abort the tiny pre-born baby.

“When I ran a clinic in New York, it was considered absolutely necessary for every abortion doctor to do that,” said Nathanson. “We told every doctor that up to 12 weeks' gestation, they had to float the tissue to make sure they'd got it all. Otherwise, the woman could go home thinking she had an abortion and she's still pregnant.”

The new focus on early-term abortions does highlight one fact, Nathanson pointed out: Even abortion supporters have to admit that life begins at conception. If an abortion can be performed eight days after conception, then a living being must be present. Every doctor and scientist knows when life begins but they are willing to change their terminology to fit a political cause, he said.

He urged pro-life advocates not to fall into the false language of their opponents, as happened in the fight against partial-birth abortion. Pro-life strategists made a mistake in describing what is truly infanticide in terms of abortion. According to obstetrical textbooks, any expulsion of the child from the womb after the 20th week of gestation is not an abortion; it is a “pre-term delivery,” said Nathanson.

“The true technical description of what we call partial-birth abortion is ‘pre-term delivery culminating with an act of infanticide,’” he said. “When we bring in the word ‘abortion’ we play into the hands of the other side because it gives them the opportunity to talk about ‘choice’ and Roe v. Wade. If we would consistently call the procedure what it really is, infanticide, there would be few supporters.”

The early abortion technique is not new, he stressed, and pro-life forces should not attack it as though it were. It's the same old abortion in new technical clothing.

Brian Caulfield writes from New York.