Testimony in partial-birth abortion trials shows abortionists detached from reality

By Cathy Cleaver Ruse*

August 2004 – This weekend (April 25) the so-called “March for Women’s Lives” took place here in our nation’s capital.

The National Organization for Women described it as “the most significant and massive abortion rights march in over a decade.” The reason for the urgency, according to organizers, are the new threats to “choice” – chief among them, the ban on partial-birth abortion.

Hollywood celebrities are lending their names to the event. Sen. John Kerry, who twice voted against the ban, has produced a television ad to run beginning the week of the march, pledging his commitment to “fight” to defend “the right to choose.” NEA members were bused in.

The ban on this procedure became federal law last November. Immediately Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits in three federal courts claiming the ban takes away a fundamental constitutional right. Their star witnesses, a team of seasoned abortion doctors, have taken the witness stand over the last few weeks to describe in astonishingly frank terms how they abort children in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy.

Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, testifying in the New York trial, spoke of how it is “necessary to insert our forceps, open them as wide as possible to try to capture the head within the opening of the forceps and then crush the head using external force applied against the head.” She admitted there is “usually a heartbeat” when she performs a partial-birth abortion, and that even when she collapses the skull, the baby is still “living.”

Another New York witness, Dr. Timothy Johnson, was asked to describe what doctors use to crush the head. He described the instruments as “tongs” but “thick enough and heavy enough that you can actually grasp and crush with those instruments as if you were picking up salad or picking up anything with....” Here he was interrupted by Judge Richard Casey who interjected, “Except here you are crushing the head of a baby.” 

“Correct,” said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. William Fitzhugh told the Nebraska court that his only worry was delivering a live baby: “The one thing that ... I don’t want the staff to have to deal with is to have a fetus that you remove and have some viability to it, some movement of limbs, because it’s always a difficult situation.”

The witnesses appear to have become detached from their own humanity as they recount what they have done and continue to do to little human beings.

No sentiment is detected in Dr. Westoff’s description about the baby’s “tiny face and a relatively large head” and how stabbing the head with scissors or her own finger causes it to look “a little wrinkly and collapsed, but the facial structures are not disturbed at all by that procedure.” Even the “small coffins” and “little hats” available to “cover the back of the head where the incision had been made” are discussed with an insouciant air.

Emotions appear only when the question arises of fetal pain. Even then, the emotion is anger that the question was asked.

Judge Casey asked Dr. Marilynn Fredriksen what she tells her patients: “Do you tell them whether or not it hurts?” he asked. 

She stuttered, “Who am I – what am I ... .” 

“The patient,” Judge Casey continued. “The woman, the mother.” 

“It doesn’t hurt her, no,” said Dr. Fredricksen. 

Judge Casey pressed on, “Do you tell whether or not it will hurt the fetus?” 

Her response: “The intent [is] that the fetus will die during the process of uterine evacuation.”

“Ma’am, I didn’t ask you that,” Judge Casey persisted. “You will deliver the baby partially and then insert a pair of scissors in the base of the fetus’ skull. ... Do you tell them whether or not that hurts the fetus?”

In response, Dr. Fredricksen snapped, “I have never talked to a fetus about whether or not they experience pain.”

A pain specialist in the California trial, Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, said, “There will be pain caused to the fetus. And I believe it will be severe and excruciating pain.”

As partial-birth abortion was debated on the national stage over the last several years, many people refused to believe it existed. Indeed, the pro-life movement was accused of fabricating this gruesome procedure as a part of a campaign of public deception to smear the pro-choice cause.

But now, as abortion providers themselves make admission after admission, under oath, partial-birth abortion can be judged not by what pro-life organizations say about it, but by its chief proponents    in their own words. The transcripts, while not easy reading, should be required reading for politicians who voted against the ban.

The partial-birth abortion trials are a telling backdrop for the drama that unfolded this weekend. As abortion activists gathered to protest the new threat to that most abstract notion of “choice,” their champions, the abortion providers, told courts what that really means.  undefined

* Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq. is director of planning and information, secretariat for Pro-life activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.