On Thursday, a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on a bill that would ban most abortions during the last four months of pregnancy nationwide. Proponents of the legislation frequently cited the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, as well as the words of President Obama himself, to make their case for a new law.
"The Gosnell trial reminds us that when newborn babies are cut with scissors, they whimper and cry, and flinch from pain," House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte said during opening remarks. "But it takes only a moment's thought to realize that wherever babies are cut, they whimper and cry, and flinch from pain. Delivered or not, babies are babies, and they can feel pain at 20 weeks. It is time to welcome young children who can feel pain into the human family. And this bill, at last, will do just that."
Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, the sponsor of the bill and the subcommittee chairman, quoted heavily from Obama's speech in response to the Newtown massacre. "This is our first task: caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how we as a society will be judged," Franks said, quoting Obama. "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage. That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
One of the witnesses, Dr. Anthony Levatino, an obstetrician who performed more than 1,200 abortions before a moral awakening led him to stop performing them, testified about the inherent brutality of the late-term abortion procedure he used to perform.
Whereas Dr. Gosnell killed newborns by cutting into their necks to sever their spinal cords, Dr. Levatino testified that a standard late-term abortion procedure known as "dilation and evacuation" involves the dismemberment of a very developed child in utero.
After tearing off the baby's limbs, Levatino said, “sometimes a face comes out and stares back at you. Congratulations. You have just successfully performed a second trimester Suction D&E abortion. You just affirmed her right to choose."
"These procedures are brutal by their nature," Levatino testified. "The Gosnell situation is a situation that has, I think, brought to the public's attention what we're talking about when we're talking about this level of abortion." Although the proposed ban on abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy contains exceptions for when the life or physical health of the mother is at risk, Levatino testified that in his experience late-term abortion was not necessary to save the mother's life. The doctor pointed out that late-term abortions take three days to perform, and a live delivery of the baby can be performed much more quickly. Levatino stopped performing abortions after his own daughter died and he could no longer stomach the killing.
Opponents of the bill attacked the ban's lack of an exception to abort babies with severe disabilities. Democratic congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York said the bill "looks like just another battle in the Republican war on women."
"I hope that in addition to the many concerns today we will hear for fetuses, we will also hear concern for women and their families," Nadler said. Nadler brought in a woman named Christy Zink to testify against the bill. Zink described how she had a late-term abortion after doctors told her that her baby was missing part of his brain and would suffer from seizures if born.
But opponents of the bill made clear they don't simply want an exception for fetal euthanasia. The National Abortion Federation--the organization that knew about Gosnell's "house of horrors" but didn't report him to the authorities--released a statement saying that late-term abortion should be legal in cases when women take more than five months to "raise necessary funds or travel great distances to obtain the abortion care they need." First-trimester abortions cost much less than late-second and third-trimester abortions.
Planned Parenthood and the Huffington Post focused on the fact that the members of the House panel (both Republican and Democrat) consisted of only men. The Huffington Post failed to report the fact that two women, Dr. Maureen Condic of the University of Utah and nurse Jill Stanek, testified in support of the bill. (Planned Parenthood also ignored the fact that more than 50 percent of late-term abortions are performed on baby girls).
Condic testified that at 18 weeks after conception "a fetus is very well developed. All of the organs and structures are fully formed. She has a face and fingerprints." Stanek noted that we do not have good data on the total number of abortions performed 20 weeks after conception because there are no mandatory federal reporting requirements. While comprising a small percentage of all abortions, the total number of late-term abortions is likely in the tens of thousands each year.
Although we don't know how many late-term abortions take place each year, we do know that that Gosnell is not alone. One undercover investigation revealed that Dr. LeRoy Carhart will perform "purely elective" abortions 28 weeks into pregnancy in the state of Maryland. Another investigation revealed that Dr. James Pendergraft will perform even later abortions under Maryland's health exception if a mother is experiencing "stress and anxiety" from the pregnancy. The measure considered before yesterday's House panel is aimed at putting an end to such extreme brutality.