Since the third presidential debate and its unprecedented discussion of late-term abortion, my newsfeed has been filled with predictable denials that such a thing as at-term abortions are actually happening in the United States. But these denials are missing the point. Third-trimester abortions are legal, thanks to the Roe v. Wade companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, which gave mothers carte blanche to abort their babies for any reason by saying their emotional health is imperiled by the pregnancy.
Because abortion is so unregulated in this country, we can’t know if any mothers are aborting at 40 weeks, but we do know third-trimester abortions are happening. In 2013, a 29-year-old kindergarten teacher aborted her daughter at 33 weeks at the late-term abortion business run by LeRoy Carhart in Germantown, Maryland. The young woman’s doctor had warned that her daughter would be born with a seizure disorder, so she and her husband chose to end their daughter’s life. Tragically, both mother and daughter perished in that abortion and were buried together.
In 2015, a young woman from the United Kingdom traveled to Albuquerque to abort her healthy child at 30 weeks at Southwest Women’s Options. We know this because her mother and uncle reached out to Priests for Life to ask for help in changing her mind, and our pastoral associate Father Stephen Imbarrato and his allies tried their best. But the baby was sacrificed on the altar of Doe v. Bolton. At least in this case, the mother survived the abortion.
Our friends at Operation Rescue reported a 2011 case, also at Southwest Women’s Options, when a 26-year-old mother aborted her baby at 35 weeks because her ob-gyn advised her that the baby’s head was the size of a 40-week baby. When complications developed during the abortion, the woman was transported to the University of New Mexico Medical Center, where her dead 7.5 pound baby was removed and her ruptured uterus repaired.
All of these babies – 30, 33 and 35 weeks — were well beyond the 24-week standard for fetal viability. None of these mothers’ lives was in danger.
While a recent study reported on by the Lozier Institute concluded that most women choose later-term abortion for the same reasons as those who have first-trimester terminations – financial concerns and parenting challenges among them – those mothers whose babies are tragically deemed “incompatible with life” are likely counseled by doctors wary of being sued for “wrongful life” or “wrongful birth” if they fail to deliver a perfect child.
The motivations of the doctors and Mormon bishop who counseled Alyson Draper likely had nothing to do with fears of being sued. But the Utah woman whose story of a late-term abortion went viral after she came forward following the debate is remarkable in a number of ways.
Mrs. Draper was 22 weeks pregnant with twins, one of whom died in her womb. The other twin was diagnosed with spina bifida. And although she says she had an abortion, technically the procedure she underwent was not an abortion. It was a Caesarean delivery that the second baby survived but then died shortly after.
No one on either side of the abortion debate would ever deny that her experience was heart-breaking, as she herself described.
“The abortion was terrible. It was done very gently, by Caesarean section, leaving the babies in their amniotic sacs. The living baby passed very quickly.
“It was horrific. I think it even affected my dear physician, as he had never had to end a pregnancy before. I developed PTSD for which I had to be treated for years, mostly because of the fact I had to have it at all.”
What I wondered after reading her story is whether anyone had suggested perinatal hospice for Mrs. Draper and her surviving twin. If that had been an option for her, she would have given birth, just as she did, and she would have had an opportunity to hold and love that baby for as long, or as briefly, as he or she lived. Hearts would still be broken, absolutely, but the child’s death would have been much more humane.
Partial-birth abortion, which was discussed at the debate, is illegal (although as a U.S. senator, Hillary Clinton voted against the ban). Dismemberment abortion, to which Donald Trump alluded, is still happening in this country, although it is used in the second trimester. In the last five years, at least four women have died following second-trimester abortions, two of them at Planned Parenthood facilities. It is a brutal procedure for the child, the mother, and the abortionist. For my 2013 book Recall Abortion, I interviewed Dr. John Bruchalski, a doctor who is now pro-life but who performed some abortions as a resident. He had this to say about later-term abortion:
“When you kill another human life up close and personal, it’s viciously brutal. The baby fights back a little bit. When they get real big, they don’t want to be killed.”
Sometimes the babies are killed by a shot of digoxin to the heart before they are, quite literally, torn limb from limb. But some are not, because “digging” – in the lexicon of the Planned Parenthood abortionist caught on secretly recorded video – can interfere with the harvest of a baby’s organs. And let’s not forget that abortionists have to be careful where they “crush” to ensure they aren’t damaging any valuable parts of the torn-apart child.
Our friends at Live Action gave us an idea of how third-trimester abortions are performed in this undercover video shot in 2013 at, again, Southwest Women’s Options. A woman who was 27 weeks pregnant – who did not claim fetal anomaly or any threat to her own health – was dispassionately talked through the steps of this legal murder. The “pregnancy” would be killed with a shot of digoxin on the first day, and on the third day, the mother would go into labor, possibly while alone in the motel Southwest uses for its late-term patients.
“If you feel the pregnancy coming out,” a counselor advises, “you’ll want to unlock the door to the hotel room, get your cell phone, and just sit on the toilet. You don’t have to look at anything – you don’t have to clean anything up or nothing… You don’t gotta look down, you don’t gotta do anything. The doctor and nurse will come and take care of you.”
Maybe no child is being aborted at 40 weeks, but that is not the point. We know children are dying just weeks shy of their birthdays. Knowing that, we cannot absolve ourselves of guilt by hiding behind the often-cited fact that second and third-trimester abortion is “rare.” The truth is that 1.3 percent of abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks. While it is impossible to know with any accuracy how many abortions are performed annually — because states are not required to report abortions, some, including abortion-friendly California do not – it is generally assumed that 1 million children die every year from abortion in the U.S. That’s 13,000 second and third-trimester abortions every year, or more than 35 every day.
If more than 35 children are legally killed by late-term abortion every single day, can we call that rare? Not by my reckoning. This is the conversation we should be having. Candidate Clinton often says this election will determine the kind of nation the U.S. will be and I couldn’t agree with her more. Let’s take an honest look at what Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton started, and where we are today, as we decide what kind of nation we want to be tomorrow.