As Coloradans consider late-term abortion ban, statistics shed light on Boulder clinic

By Jonah McKeown/Catholic News Agency

Coloradans are preparing for a ballot referendum that would ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy in the state. While abortion advocates argue that such abortions are “extremely rare,” statistics recorded by a longtime Colorado abortionist shed light on the late term abortions performed at one Boulder clinic.

The data reveals hundreds of late-term abortions performed over a 20-year period on babies with fetal abnormalities such as Down syndrome.

Warren Hern, an abortionist who has been active in Boulder, Colorado since 1975, released a paper in 2014 which included many self-reported statistics about the abortions his clinic performed between 1992 and 2012.

The statistics show that Hern’s clinic performed hundreds of abortions between 1992-2012 on women who were at or past 24 weeks pregnant, including several performed on women between 38 and 39 weeks gestation.

Nearly 240 of those late-term abortions were performed on babies with Down syndrome.

The self-reported statistics only cover abortions Hern performed for reasons of fetal abnormality, which in some years made up just 2.5% of the thousands of abortions he performed.

Colorado remains one of the only a handful of states that does not have some legislation on  late-term abortion. As a result, abortions can take place in the state up until birth.

The Boulder Abortion Clinic is one of just a handful of clinics in the U.S. that publicly accept patients seeking late-term abortions from anywhere in the world.

Colorado voters are set to decide on Proposition 115 in November, which asks voters whether to ban abortion in the state after 22 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases where a mother’s life is threatened.

More than 150,000 Coloradans signed a petition to put Prop. 115 on the ballot, which has garnered bipartisan support.

A poll conducted in early October by 9 News / Colorado Politics found that among 1,021 registered likely voters, 42% of respondents said they are certain to vote yes on Prop. 115; 45% said no, while 13% are uncertain.

If the late-term abortion ban passes in November, it would mark the first time since 1967 that Colorado would impose voter-approved restrictions on abortion.

While some abortion supporters claim the phrase “late-term abortion” is “imprecise and misleading,” Hern uses the term “late abortion” throughout his paper.

Hern reports that between Jan. 4, 1992 and Oct. 31, 2012, just more than 1,000 women requested a “late abortion” for reasons of fetal disorder.

Abortion supporters frequently cite CDC data from 2016— data which excludes abortion hotspots like California, Illinois, New York state, and Washington DC— to argue that abortions after 21 weeks gestation make up only 1.2% of all abortions performed in the US and are thus “extremely rare.”

In Colorado, the percentage of abortions performed after 21 weeks is higher than the national average, at 3.3%— a figure higher than any other state in the CDC’s data except New Mexico.

The statistics do not account for the fact that women have traveled from other states to Boulder for decades to avail themselves of Hern’s late-term abortion services. At least 11% of all abortions performed in Colorado are on out-of-state residents, according to the CDC data.  

Each year, about 200 to 300 babies are aborted after 21 weeks gestation in Colorado. Dilation and evacuation abortions are typically used in the second trimester of pregnancy, and result in the crushing of the head and eventual dismemberment of an unborn child.

The trend in Hern’s statistics suggest that the proportion of all patients seeking abortions because of fetal disorders increased over time from 2.5% to 30%.

Hern credited this increase to “gradual change in clinic policy to accept patients with more advanced gestations, more requests for late termination of pregnancy because of fewer options being available elsewhere, and advances in fetal diagnosis.”

“Genetic disorders”— as opposed to “structural anomalies”— were the most common disorders among the babies aborted, appearing in 40% of cases.

Of those cases, 63% of the genetic disorders were Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down syndrome. Hern reported 237 total abortions of babies with Down syndrome.

The most common “structural anomalies” reported were neural tube defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida; but some of the babies were aborted for reasons such as extra fingers or toes, cleft hands or lips, or because two twins were conjoined. 

The median age of all 1,005 patients in Hern’s study was 32, and the median gestational age was 24 weeks, or five and a half months. He said many patients who request abortions after 30 weeks have had their fetus evaluated as “normal” around 18 to 20 weeks.

Patients seeking particular kinds of abortions at Hern’s clinic tended to request abortions, on average, around eight months into their pregnancies.

For example, some patients carrying twins requested an abortion for one of the twins—“selective termination”— usually because of a fetal abnormality.

Hern writes that in these cases, the abortions were generally done after 32 weeks— more than seven months— gestation to “permit optimum development and survival probability for the healthy twin.”

Patients seeking “selective termination” or “induced fetal demise”— an injection to kill the fetus before the abortion operation— tended to be in their mid-30s in age. Hern said these patients typically request abortions between 33 and 36 weeks— over eight months— gestation.

Several of his patients suffered major complications, including major unintended surgery, hemorrhage requiring transfusion, and pelvic infection, he reported.

A Nebraska couple filed a lawsuit against Hern and the Boulder Abortion Clinic in 2015, alleging that Hern left a nearly two-inch piece of a fetus’ skull inside a patient’s uterus during a late-term abortion, apparently forcing a patient to undergo a hysterectomy.

In 2016, Hern was the subject of a congressional investigation into the practices of late-term abortionists. The panel requested information on any infants who were born alive at his clinic and the babies’ records thereafter. According to the Denver Post, Hern refused to provide any of the requested documentation, calling the panel a “witchhunt.”

During May 2019, Hern argued in a New York Times op-ed that because women are more likely to die in childbirth than from complications related to an abortion, “pregnancy is dangerous; abortion can be lifesaving.”

Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a high-risk obstetrician and Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami, responded at the time that although any pregnancy carries some risk, it is not a “serious” threat to a woman’s health, especially in the United States where maternal deaths are still very rare, even in rural areas.

Opponents of Colorado’s late-term abortion ban, including groups like Abortion Access for All, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have raised millions of dollars to attempt to defeat the proposition.

If the ballot measure becomes law, doctors would face a three-year license suspension for performing or attempting to perform an abortion of an unborn child beyond 22-weeks of gestation. Women would not be charged with seeking or obtaining an abortion.

The Catholic bishops of Colorado asked voters to support the ban in a June 30 letter and placed the ballot measure under the patronage of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini, who aided orphans and immigrants in her time in Colorado.

In addition, the Catholic Medical Association and a group of more than 130 medical professionals and scientists in Colorado have backed Proposition 115.

Colorado was the first state in the nation to decriminalize abortion. The initial legislation, signed into law April 25, 1967, allowed abortion in certain limited cases: rape, incest, or a prediction of permanent mental or physical disability of either the child or mother. Six years later, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade declared abortion a constitutional right nationwide.

Abortion-rights groups in Colorado have touted the fact that for a time during the pandemic, many women from other states were traveling to Colorado to take advantage of the state’s permissive abortion laws.

Abortion clinics in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, which did not introduce any pandemic-related restrictions on abortion, saw increases in patients traveling from other states, such as Texas, to undergo the procedure during spring 2020.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”