Revolution #86, April 29, 2007


The Facts of the Matter: Fetuses Are NOT Babies, Abortion Is NOT Murder, and There Is No Such Thing as "Partial-Birth Abortion"

Before abortion was legalized in 1973 by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, thousands of women were seriously injured or died each year from unsafe, illegal abortions. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to bear children that they did not want. The legalization of abortion meant that, for the first time, women could decide whether and when they wanted to bear children. It was, and is, central to the emancipation of women.

Fetuses Are NOT Babies

But doesn’t abortion destroy another living being? An important article in our paper (“What Is an Abortion and Why Women Must Have the Right to Choose,” by A.S.K., Revolutionary Worker #1265, January 23, 2005) answered that question this way:

"Is it true that a fetus is a form of life? Of course it is. It is made up of live cells, it is growing and processing energy, it has the capacity to mature and reproduce, it has a genetic system and so on.

"Will an abortion destroy this form of life? Yes, absolutely.

"Well then, isn’t an abortion killing another human being? No absolutely not.

"A fetus is not yet a human being. It is more like a seed or sprout of a human being. It is ‘alive,’ but that is also true of all the other cells in a woman’s body. It has no life of its own yet. It is not yet a separate life from the life of the woman in whose uterus it is."

Abortion Is NOT Murder

The new Supreme Court ruling is filled with lies and distortions about abortion, fetuses and women – including the name of the law itself: the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." Medically, there is no such thing as a "partial-birth abortion." Abortion of a fetus has nothing to do with the birth of a baby. The term "partial-birth abortion" was invented by the Christian fascists to suggest that "babies" are killed in the middle of being born, just "inches from birth."

The huge majority of abortions, 99 percent, occur long before a fetus is anywhere near being able to function separately from the woman and ready to be born. And 90 percent of these are done in the first three months of pregnancy, the first trimester (1 through 13 weeks since the last menstrual period), when the fetus is just beginning to develop. At the end of this time, the fetus is still only a little over an inch long. This is by far the best time to have an abortion - it is easiest, safest, and cheapest.

But sometimes women aren’t able to get abortions then. Over 87 percent of counties in the U.S. don’t have abortion providers, so women have to figure out how to take off work or school and travel long distances to find one. Most states have punishing restrictions that require waiting periods or parental notification or consent for minors. Many women, especially young women, don’t have the money—thanks to a vicious ban on federal Medicaid funding for abortions.

In addition, sometimes errors are made with pregnancy tests or birth control fails, and a woman doesn’t realize she’s pregnant until months have gone by. (A missed period can be caused by stress or a number of other things.) And especially in today’s anti-science, anti-sex ed, pro- abstinence climate, too many young women and girls don’t understand how their reproductive systems function. Some pharmacies today don’t even carry birth control.

Once a woman is into her second trimester of pregnancy, she is no longer able to have a simple vacuum-aspiration abortion. While abortion is still a very safe procedure, it is more complicated, and fewer clinics and doctors do them. The fetus, although still far from being able to survive separately from the woman (even at the end of the second trimester), is larger, and must be taken out of the woman’s uterus in pieces. This procedure is called a D&E, dilation and evacuation.

Only about one percent of abortions take place after the second trimester, or "viability," the point at which a fetus could potentially survive on its own. Abortions at this stage are done because medical tests have detected grave abnormalities in the fetus (such as hydrocephaly, an extreme skull and brain deformity) or serious risks to the woman’s health. And it is in these conditions, as well as in some second trimester situations, where some doctors use another procedure.

The Myth of "partial-birth abortion"—and the Reality of the Assault on Women’s Lives

While there is no such thing as "partial-birth abortion," the federal ban is supposedly aimed at a medical procedure called intact dilation and extraction (D&X) that involves removing (extracting) the fetus intact. It requires collapsing the skull to enable the fetus to pass through the birth canal. And no matter what the patriarchs of the Supreme Court claim, it is an abortion, not a "partial birth."

Some doctors consider D&X the safest procedure for some women. But now they will not have this option, even if they determine that a woman’s health could be seriously compromised. The 1973 Roe decision said that abortions could be restricted in the third trimester after fetal viability but expressly stated that there must be exceptions for preserving a woman’s health. The new abortion ban has wiped out this critical, essential part of the legal right to abortion.

In addition, the federal ban is so worded that it could be interpreted—as its framers have admitted and lower courts acknowledged—to apply to all D&E procedures, that is, the most common and safest method used in 90 percent of second trimester abortions.

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