In their Dec. 6 editorial, the Denver Post asks Coloradans not to sign petitions currently circulating to place a late abortion ban on the 2020 ballot (Initiative 120). In their arguments, they uncritically promote the misleading narratives and myths promulgated by abortion rights extremists. Since the editorial was published, the Post has refused to publish a response from the Coalition for Women and Children (which is sponsoring the initiative). They seem uninterested in providing Coloradans with an alternative view on late abortion. As pro-life Catholics, when the mainstream media refuses to report all the facts, it is our responsibility to get the word out and persuade our neighbors to support this important effort.
The first myth is that late abortion is rare and only performed in tragic circumstances that involve either a horrible fatal fetal anomaly or cases where the health of the expectant mother is in jeopardy. They dismiss as small the percentage of abortions that are performed late. In Colorado, it is true that only 3.6 percent of abortions occur after 21 weeks gestation, but this represents 323 pre-born children based on the latest 2018 report from the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment. The reporting of the Guttmacher Institute – the abortion industry’s research arm – even suggests that that CDPHE’s figures are significantly understated.
In the past, the Post has highlighted the risk of measles deaths as well as an Uber trip ending in homicide. However, only 0.1-0.2 percent of children/adults afflicted with measles dies from their illness, and there have been no fatal cases recently in Colorado. Meanwhile, nationally only 0.0003 percent of Uber trips were complicated by critical safety issues in 2017/2018 with 107 fatalities. The same thing could be said about vaping deaths or school shooting deaths. Why is it then that the Post and abortion rights extremists try to claim that 3.6 percent of abortions is a trivial percentage and imply that hundreds of deaths constitute a “rare” occurrence and should not evoke a response in Colorado?
What about the implication that late abortions are performed for only “tragic” reasons? We know that in Colorado, the Boulder abortion clinic (which specializes in late abortions) advertises on their website for abortions through 26 weeks for any (elective) reason. In published data from their practice, 70% of abortions are performed on normal fetuses. Furthermore, reputable media outlets such as FactCheck.org have debunked the notion that most – or even a majority – of late abortions are related to fetal anomaly. Diane Greene Foster, a prominent UCSF abortion rights activist and authority on abortion science, has stated that abortions for fetal anomaly “make up a small minority of later abortions.”
The notion that abortion is ever necessary to save the health or life of an expectant mother after 22 weeks is also misguided. The reality is that expedited delivery is safer than a multi-day late abortion procedure. Indeed, a late abortion would pose a substantially increased risk of injury or death and constitute malpractice in the case of a medical emergency.
The second myth is that killing a fetus after 22 weeks for a fatal fetal anomaly by abortion is more compassionate and results in less suffering than a natural fetal death. It is now widely accepted by international fetal experts such as Carlo Bellieni that a 20 to 22-week fetus can experience pain. Because pain inhibitory pathways develop later in fetal life, the pain may be more intense than those appreciated by infants or adults.
Late second-trimester abortions may be accomplished by dismembering the fetus and removing her appendage by appendage – referred to as a dilation and evacuation (D&E). Some late abortions are performed using a method called dilation and extraction (D&X) in which her brain is sucked out to collapse the head and facilitate delivery of the dead fetus. Most very late abortions are performed as induction abortions in which the fetus is killed by transecting the umbilical cord or injecting potassium chloride or digoxin. Labor is then induced to deliver the dead fetus.
Compared to a peaceful, loving and life-affirming natural death assisted by perinatal hospice specialists, death by dismemberment is horrific. Potassium chloride death is quicker but causes incredibly intense caustic pain when injected without anesthesia. Digoxin injection can elicit severe nausea and delirium before it results in death over a period of hours. Furthermore, a recent postmortem study of fetuses killed by injection reveals multiple injuries to the heart, lungs and abdomen. None of this is painless. Just because you can’t see the fetus experience pain and suffer as it dies in the uterus doesn’t mean it is not happening.
What about the mothers? In the tragic case of a fatal fetal anomaly, isn’t abortion a better choice for the mother’s mental health than normal delivery? Again, perinatal hospice provides loving support at the time of fetal death and bereavement services to the whole family for months. This does not happen with a late abortion procedure. In fact, a recent study suggested that abortion of a wanted pregnancy may result in worse mental health outcomes than delivery – particularly depression and suicide ideation.
Ultimately, Coloradans need to ask themselves if it makes sense that a 22-week fetus that is born enjoys all the protections of state and federal law while that same fetus in the uterus can be arbitrarily killed and forced to suffer a painful death. It is past time that Coloradans end this gross inequity and sign the petition to place a late abortion ban on the ballot in 2020. Please spread the word and don’t let abortion rights extremists dictate the terms of the debate.
Thomas J. Perille MD
Coalition for Women and Children
Catholic Medical Association