'Chilling fanaticism'

November 06, 1995|By Mona Charen

WASHINGTON -- ''This bill is a product of an absolutely chilling fanaticism.'' So said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., of the 228-to-139 vote to outlaw partial-birth abortions last week.

She's right, but the fanatics are not, as she supposes, ''the House Republican leadership'' and the ''zealots on the other side.'' What the debate demonstrated clearly was that abortion supporters are the rigid ideologues here, unwilling to consider even the mildest and most limited restrictions on the ''right'' to abortion.

Their tactics, though they would loathe the comparison, are reminiscent of the National Rifle Association's. Any regulation of gun ownership, even registration, is resisted fiercely on the ''camel's nose under the tent'' theory.

Advocates of unlimited abortion argue that what abortion opponents are seeking is nothing less than the rollback of Roe v. Wade. The NRA is certain that every gun restriction is a mere prelude to confiscation.

In both cases, the zealots are right about their opponents but wrong about the American people. Anti-gun crusaders do fantasize about outlawing all gun ownership. And pro-lifers would like to see abortion severely limited.

But the American people come down somewhere in the middle on both issues and are likely to regard as extremists those who oppose even the most reasonable restrictions.

Abortion foes did the smart thing last week by focusing on an abortion procedure that all reasonable people should agree is barbarous. Of the 1.5 million abortions annually, about 13,000 are late-term abortions. Performed after the 20th week of gestation, when the fetus is 7 inches long or more, partial birth, also called ''intact D and E,'' involves pulling the fetus out of the birth canal feet first. The doctor then makes an incision in the skull with scissors and suctions the brain out of the skull so that the head can better fit through the cervix.

It is ghastly and horrifying, which is why very few doctors will admit to performing such abortions. But the alternative late-term abortions are also vile. A standard D and E involves dilating the cervix, cutting the fetus to pieces inside the womb and then suctioning it out. Induced labor is the only remaining method for aborting a late-term fetus, but this is avoided because of the pain and anguish to the ''mother.''

Perhaps the partial-birth abortion is particularly gruesome because it mimics -- and mocks -- the true journey of birth. To see a fully formed baby pulled from its mother by the feet, only to have its brains sucked out is horror-film material. Just ask the nurses who assist at such procedures. But this is what pro-choice advocates have backed themselves into defending.

Truth in bad taste

Because they cannot face the grotesque reality, opponents of last week's legislation retreated into denial and lies. Rep. Charles T. Canady, R-Fla., sponsor of the legislation, came equipped with charts showing exactly what happens in these abortions. That was too much for Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., who moved that Mr. Canady be prohibited from displaying the drawings because it violated the ''order and decorum'' of the chamber. The truth, as chastened pro-choicer Naomi Wolf recently acknowledged, cannot be evaded by being called bad taste.

The truth took even bigger blows in the press. Nearly every radio and television report on the vote described the procedure as ''obscure'' and ''performed only to save the life of the mother.'' In fact, the legislation specifically excludes those abortions performed when the mother's life is in danger. Moreover, Dr. Martin Haskell, originator of the technique, admitted in an interview with American Medical News that ''In my particular case, probably 20 percent are for genetic reasons, and the other 80 percent are purely elective.''

No other civilized country on earth maintains an abortion regime that is so radical as to permit even late-term abortions when the mother's life is not in danger. It is pro-choice forces, who fiercely resisted even this mild legislation, who stand revealed as ''zealots.''

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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