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America's Culture War: Abortion

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One Small Step for Man--One Giant Leap for Mankind

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Every year around Halloween, the movie industry releases a multitude of horror films. Items such as ski masks, blood, and fingers that wield long blades sell movie tickets, and that means more money for Hollywood. But there is one horror show that is continually played out in America with absolutely no reference to Halloween. Few individuals exist who could withstand the ghastly terror involved. In fact, it makes those films released at Halloween look like G-rated movies. The horror show to which I am referring is the one that people term “partial birth abortion.” While all physicians are familiar with the term “partial birth abortion,” the grisly procedure often is cloaked behind the medical term “Dilation and Extraction” (“D&X” for short). You also may see it referred to as an Intact D&E (“E” standing for extraction), or Intrauterine Cranial Decompression. Whatever name it goes by, the scene portrayed is one of macabre mutilation.

[WARNING: The description of the procedure, by its very nature, is extremely graphic, so for those not wanting to read how the procedure is carried out, I would encourage you to skip to the next paragraph.] Dilation and extractions normally are performed during the fifth month of gestation. The baby actually is delivered vaginally, with two important exceptions. First, after dilating the cervix, the physician will manually turn the baby into a breech position (i.e., feet first). The legs, body, and arms are then delivered, leaving the head still inside the womb. So, with the baby’s arms and legs moving like an infant just being born, the surgeon then inserts a sharp object into the base of the baby’s head. That object is removed, and a vacuum tube is inserted into the hole that remains. The brains are sucked out of the baby’s skull, causing it to collapse (thus the term Intrauterine Cranial Decompression). Once the skull is collapsed, the infant—who was alive and moving its arms and legs just moments earlier—is then “more easily” removed from the womb. (There is also a less common “head-first” procedure carried out in a similar manner, with the body remaining undelivered until after the brain has been suctioned out). These descriptions pale in comparison to the actual atrocity that can be witnessed as the baby’s tiny fingers and toes curl and flex after delivery, and then go limp once the vacuum is turned on.

Fortunately, there is some reason to hope that our country has seen the final episode of this gruesome horror show. On October 21, 2003, the United States Senate passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act by a 64-34 margin. Following that victory, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (who is only medical doctor serving as a senator) noted: “We have just outlawed a procedure that is barbaric, that is brutal, that is offensive to our moral sensibilities and that is out of the mainstream of the ethical practice of medicine today” (as quoted in Rosenberg, 2003, 142[18]:44, emp. added). Those words come from a man who spent a great deal of his life as a surgeon! On November 5, 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (S. 3). The bill represents the first national restriction on any method of abortion since the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in 1973. This new law would make it illegal in all fifty states for physicians to perform this hideous procedure. As he signed the bill into law, President Bush lamented:

For years, a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches from birth, while the law looked the other way. Today, at last, the American people and our government have confronted the violence and come to the defense of the innocent child.

He continued by noting:

The best case against partial birth abortion is a simple description of what happens and to whom it happens. It involves the partial delivery of a live boy or girl, and a sudden, violent end of that life. Our nation owes its children a different and better welcome.

In his conclusion, the president commented:

By acting to prevent this practice, the elected branches of our government have affirmed a basic standard of humanity, the duty of the strong to protect the weak. The wide agreement amongst men and women on this issue, regardless of political party, shows that bitterness in political debate can be overcome by compassion and the power of conscience. And the executive branch will vigorously defend this law against any who would try to overturn it in the courts. America stands for liberty, for the pursuit of happiness and for the unalienable right of life. And the most basic duty of government is to defend the life of the innocent. Every person, however frail or vulnerable, has a place and a purpose in this world. Every person has a special dignity. This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government, it comes from the Creator of life (see “President Bush Signs…,” 2003, emp. added).

Those who are worried that this new law is going to jeopardize the health of thousands of pregnant women, according to the American Medical Association, have nothing to fear. In fact, the AMA has gone on record as stating: “According to the scientific literature, there does not appear to be any identified situation in which intact D&X is the only appropriate procedure to induce abortion, and ethical concerns have been raised about intact D&X” (see AMA, n.d., emp. added). In fact, the AMA further commented: “The demand for abortions, with the exception of those indicated by serious fetal anomalies or conditions which threaten the life or health of the pregnant woman, represent failures in the social environment, education, and contraceptive methods” (see AMA, emp. added). The medical profession itself admits that abortions represent a “failure” within our society.

Jeremiah the prophet stated that the word of the Lord came unto him saying: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (1:5). The prophet Isaiah confirmed it this way: “Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye peoples, from afar; Jehovah hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name…And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant…” (Isaiah 49:1,5). Jehovah not only viewed Isaiah as a person prior to his birth, but also called him by name. We were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and as Christians, we should diligently uphold the sanctity of life and the sovereignty of God.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” In the fight for life, we, too, have made one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind. Banning partial birth abortions was one small step. Common abortion practices are still legal. And before the ink from President Bush’s pen could dry, abortion-rights groups filed lawsuits in federal courts to block the new law. Rest assured that this new law will not go unchallenged—and may eventually be overturned. Abortion iconoclasts will militantly fight to protect Roe v. Wade. However, the words spoken by Senator Frist and President Bush have helped our society take a giant leap for mankind, as we finally move towards protecting life—life that comes from its Creator.


AMA (no date), “H-5.982 Late-Term Pregnancy Termination Techniques,” [On-line], URL:

“President Bush Signs Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003” (2003), [On-line], URL:

Rosenberg, Debra (2003), “A Firefight Over Abortion,” Time, 142[18]:44, November 3.

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