1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Pros & Cons of Partial Birth Abortion


Partial-birth abortion is a non-medical term used to describe a type of an abortion procedure which is performed in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, with the goal of delivering a fetus that is not alive.

Hotly Contested Right-to-Life Issue

Partial-birth abortion is also one of the most hotly contested right-to-life political issues in America.

Most legal battles over banning this late-term pregnancy-termination procedure relate to the inclusion of exemptions for certain circumstances, most notably to save the life or health of the woman.

(See Page 2 list of specific medical and other reasons FOR partial birth abortions.)

Twice during his eight years in office, President Bill Clinton vetoed bills for a federal ban on partial birth abortions because the legislation included insufficent safeguards for womens' health. During President Clinton's tenure, 29 states passed bans on partial-birth abortion, all without exemptions for the health of pregnant women. In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down the Nebraska state ban (in Stenberg v. Carhart) on several grounds, thus effectively invalidating all such state bans.

Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003

[On November 5, 2003, President George Bush signed into law the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which included a sole exception to preserve the lives of women, and also calls for a minimum two-year jail term for violators.

Says the first paragraph of the Act, "A moral, medical and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion...is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited."

Within hours of becoming law, judges in three cities blocked it from taking force. Three federal appeals courts have since ruled that this federal ban is unconstitutional on many legal grounds. The 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Act has never been enforced.

Latest News

Six years after its much-criticized ruling that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision fully protects the practice of partial-birth abortion, the US Supreme Court agreed in February 2006 to take another look at the issue by announcing that the justices will review a lower-court ruling that has blocked enforcement of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed into law by President George Bush in November 2003.

In the June 28, 2000 ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart, five of the nine Supreme Court justices ruled that the abortion right originally created in Roe v. Wade allows a medical professional to perform a partial-birth abortion whenever he sees a "health" benefit. This ruling struck down the ban on partial-birth abortion that had been enacted by Nebraska, and rendered unenforceable the similar bans in all other states.

The Bush Administration had urged the Supreme Court to relook at the partial-birth abortion issue by hearing an appeal of the lower-court ruling blocking enforcement of the 2003 ban.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments and decide the case during its next term, which begins in October 2006.


Partial-birth abortion is performed in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, with the goal of delivering a fetus that is not alive and incapable of surviving outside the womb.

Specific steps in the most commonly used partial-birth abortion procedure, Dilation and Extraction, are:
1. A medical professional induces a breech (feet first) delivery with forceps.
2. Legs, arms and torso of the fetus are delivered (i.e. expelled from the mother).
3. The back of the fetus' skull is punctured with a scissors-like instrument.
4. A suction device is inserted into the skull.
5. The device sunctions out the contents of the fetus' skull, causing the skull to collapse.
6. The lifeless fetus is delivered.

Statistics report that 12% of abortions are performed after 12 weeks (3 months) of gestation, and 1.5% are performed after 20 weeks (5 months)of gestation. Many attribute the steady decrease in the proportion of abortions performed after the first trimester to increased access to and knowledge about birth control practices and safe, legal abortion services.

Women who have abortions after the first trimester are generally younger and poorer than the statistical average of all who have abortions. Women under 18 years old obtain 30% of their subgroup's abortions after the first trimester.

A January 2003 Gallup poll found that 70% of Americans favor a ban on partial-birth abortions, with only 25% opposed to such a ban.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.