Partial Birth Abortion

The Medical, Legal, Social, and
Ethical Issues involved in Florida’s
“partial-birth” abortion law

Damien Dominicis

Anthropology 2301

Partial-birth abortion also known, as D & E for dilation and extraction was first used and developed by Dr. James McMahon, who performed the procedure well into the last trimester of pregnancy. These women discovered late in their pregnancies that they were carrying babies that could not survive outside their wombs. They decided to do what was best in their particular medical situation. The procedure (D & E) consists of the surgeon aiming for a breech delivery of the fetus, pulling it down by its extremities through the vagina until its head just lodges at the cervical, the surgeon then proceeds to take a pair of blunt curved Metzenbaum scissors and places the scissors along the spinal cord and forces the scissors into the base of the skull, spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening, and finally a suction catheter is inserted and evacuates the skulls contents. Finally the dead baby is removed. (Bonavoglia 1997:57)
In Florida according to bill FL HB 1205 (1997), requires a woman, if married, to notify her husband before obtaining an abortion, to delete a waiting period from the proposed title of the legislation, to modify the penalties, to delete from the medical emergency provision an exception to prevent “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” to a woman, and to require a physician, in a medical emergency, to obtain a second physician’s opinion indicating that the abortion is necessary to preserve a woman’s life. This bill became law without the governor’s signature on June 5, 1997, to become effective July 1, 1997. (NARAL 1998:26)
The Abortion Act is what is used to determine whether an abortion is justified; it was passed in 1967 and then amended in 1990. Currently it states that: An abortion may be performed legally if two or more doctors certify that firstly, the mental and physical health of the woman, or her existing children, will suffer if the pregnancy continues, or secondly the child, if born, would be seriously physically or mentally handicapped. In the 1990 act it states that, except that the time limit for when an abortion can be carried out was reduced to 24 weeks. This Act means a pregnant woman has the right to an abortion if upon keeping the pregnancy, and therefore having the child, the mother and/or any children she already has would be harming their physical or mental well-being or secondly the fetus has been shown to have either a physical or mental disability and therefore would be born handicapped. If two doctors both agree that the woman suffers from either of the points, then abortion is a legal option, as long as the pregnancy has not gone more than 24 weeks after conception.
A 15 yr. old girl is pregnant and has requested and abortion without her parents knowing and with no intention to do so. The girl would be allowed an abortion even though she is too young (under 16) to give consent for the medical procedure to take place. The grounds the girl would be allowed the abortion under would be under the first section of the 1967 Act, the pregnancy if continued, would pose a risk to the mother’s own mental health.
An amniocentesis test shows that the baby has a serious deformity. There is no doubt that an abortion would be legal in this circumstance, it falls exactly under the second section of the 1967 Act, because the baby, if born, would be either seriously physically or mentally handicapped. If the pregnancy were a result of rape then an abortion would be permitted to the mother, because keeping the pregnancy would cause the mother’s mental health to suffer, part of the first section of the 1967 Act. The Abortion Act allows for most abortions to go ahead, as it is open to various interpretations (especially in the first section).
In Florida as for public funding, a woman eligible for state medical assistance for general health care, including care related to pregnancy, may not obtain public funds to pay for an abortion unless the procedure is necessary to preserve her life or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Laws concerning D & E abortion