Carol Platt Liebau: Doctors figuring out ways around partial birth abortion ban

Friday, August 10, 2007

Doctors figuring out ways around partial birth abortion ban

The Boston Globe reports today on a new way some doctors in the US are getting around the partial birth abortion ban:

In response to the Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, many abortion providers in Boston and around the country have adopted a defensive tactic. To avoid any chance of partially delivering a live fetus, they are injecting fetuses with lethal drugs before procedures.

That clinical shift in late-term abortions goes deeply against the grain, some doctors say: It poses a slight risk to the woman and offers her no medical benefit.

"We do not believe that our patients should take a risk for which the only clear benefit is a legal one to the physician," Dr. Philip D. Darney, chief of obstetrics at San Francisco General Hospital, wrote in e-mail. He has chosen not to use the injections.

But others, although they do not perform the banned procedure, feel compelled to do all they can to protect themselves and their staff from the possibility of being accused. Upheld in April, the federal ban is broadly written, does not specify an age for the fetus, and carries a two-year prison sentence.

In Boston, three major Harvard-affiliated hospitals -- Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, and Beth Israel Deaconess -- have responded to the ban by making the injections the new standard operating procedure for abortions beginning at around 20 weeks' gestation, said Dr. Michael F. Greene, director of obstetrics at Mass. General.

"No physician even wants to be accused of stumbling into accidentally doing one of these procedures," Greene said.

Boston Medical Center, too, has begun using injections for later surgical abortions, said Dr. Phillip Stubblefield, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University Medical School. The decision came "after a lot of anguish about what to do," he said.

The banned method involves partially delivering a live fetus, then intentionally causing its death. Even before it was banned, the procedure was exceedingly rare, accounting for a fraction of 1 percent of all abortions.

Instead, doctors typically cause the fetus's death surgically while it is still inside the womb and then remove it.

But now, if the fetus is not dead as it begins to emerge, a provider may be accused of violating the law. So the lethal injections beforehand, carefully documented, are aimed at precluding an accusation and prosecution.

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Not.

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Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

This presents an example of the ease with which laws can end up being counterproductive. Let me offer for your entertainment a similar case.

During the 1970s, the EPA had a restriction that any new industrial facility in an air district could not increase net emissions in that district. It was required to minimize its own emissions, and then pay for upgrades to existing facilities of other companies that would reduce their emissions by an amount equal to the increment provided by the new facility.

Makes perfect sense, right? Until somebody decided to set up a furniture factory in an impoverished parish in Louisiana. The furniture factory would have only slight emissions, mostly heavy hydrocarbons, but there were no other factories in the air district -- ergo there was no way to offset the furniture factory's emissions.

It appeared that an economically useful factory would be sunk by environmental regulations, but then somebody came up with a bright idea. You see, trees emit heavy hydrocarbons similar to those to be emitted by the furniture factory. So the owners of the furniture factory bought several hundred acres of forested land and cut down all the trees. Another legal triumph!

5:47 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

It doesn't seem to me they are getting around it. They are trying to insure they don't violate it.

6:00 PM  

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