Communications Department

Update on Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act

Oct 23, 2003 | 2003 Press Releases

This is an update from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, issued Thursday, October 23, 2003, at 3:00 p.m. ET. 

For further information, send e-mail to, call 202-626-8820, or visit the NRLC website section on partial-birth abortion at

If direct attribution is desired for anything below, it is to NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.

(1)  The analysis by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) on this week’s events, and our recap on the major turning points in the history of the partial-birth abortion issue, is here:

(2)  We have received many press inquiries regarding anticipated legal challenges after President Bush signs the bill into law.  We have pointed out that the Stenberg case in 2000, which struck down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion (and effectively blocked enforcement of bans enacted by more than two dozen other states), was a 5 to 4 ruling.  Four justices — including one who supports Roe v. Wade, Justice Kennedy — voted to uphold the law.  Five Supreme Court justices ruled that Roe v. Wade empowers an abortionist to perform partial-birth abortions when he sees fit.  We hope that by the time the federal law reaches the Supreme Court, there will a shift of at least one vote away from the extreme and inhumane position taken by the five justices in that case — either by one justice reassessing the issue or by a retirement from the Court.  This litigation poses the question:  Does the Constitution really guarantee a right to mostly deliver a premature human infant and then brutally kill her?

(3)  On the Senate floor on October 21, Senator Barbara Boxer complained about language used by Senator Rick Santorum.  A response by NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson appears as an op-ed in today’s USA TODAY, here:
All documents quoted in that op-ed are available from NRLC.

(4)  In a September 17 press release, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) asserted that “S. 3 [is] a bill to outlaw a medical procedure used primarily in emergency abortions.”  But in early 1997, even Kate Michelman and Gloria Feldt reluctantly were compelled to admit that this was untrue, after the claim was disproved by investigative journalists and emphatically repudiated by the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.  (Documentation on request, and at , in the tier for late 1996 and early 1997.)  Moreover, in statements this week, PPFA inconsistently asserts that the same bill will ban ALL abortions after the first trimester.  We hope that everybody with an interest will read and quote the actual definition from the bill, examine and share the medical illustrations of (1) a partial-birth abortion, and (2) a “dilation and evacuation” (dismemberment) abortion, and allow readers/viewers to make up their own minds who is telling the truth about what the bill bans.  The official text of the bill as passed by Congress is here:

(5)  During this week’s Senate debate, detailed color illustrations of the partial-birth abortion method were again used on the Senate floor, and shown on several TV networks. The documentation on the accuracy of these drawings, which depict an unborn baby at 24 weeks, is here:

Nucleus Medical Art illustrations of a D&E at 23 weeks are here:

(6) In recent weeks, we have seen many claims that the term “partial-birth abortion” is “not found in any medical dictionary.”  (Example:  NOW President Kim Gandy, Oct. 21 press release: “Try as you might, you won’t find the term ‘partial birth abortion’ in any medical dictionary.”)  This claim is diversionary, since “partial-birth abortion” is a legal term of art that is defined by Congress in the bill itself (S. 3).  However, the claim is also untrue. If you go to major medical websites such as Medline at the National Institutes of Health or the Intelihealth site affiliated with the Harvard Medical School, and use the medical dictionary search tools (which access the Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary), you find “partial-birth abortion” defined as “an abortion in the second or third trimester of pregnancy in which the death of the fetus is induced after it has passed partway through the birth canal.”  See:

However, the legal scope of the ban in S. 3 is narrower than that medical definition, because to fall under the legal ban in S. 3, as the bill explicitly provides, the baby must be delivered, while still alive, feet-first outside the mother’s body (not only outside the womb), past the navel.  (Or, if anybody did it head first, the entire head must be delivered outside the mother’s body.)