Thursday, April 19, 2007


Intact Dilation and Extraction

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court, armed with its Bush appointees, upheld the constitutionality of a 2003 federal law that bans a medical procedure called intact dilation and extraction (ID&X). I find it unworkable to have legislators telling doctors that certain procedures are not medically necessary, and I find it unsupportable to have judges backing them up. That this procedure is performed only on women, and that it involves the removal of a fetus, is, of course, central to the question. But rather than showing respect for a developing fetus, this decision is showing callous disregard for the lives and health of women. An adult woman, this says, can never be considered more important than an improperly developing fetus. I fervently hope this doesn't represent only the beginning of the spread of that disregard. I fear it does.

But there's something else about this that bothers me: the way the procedure is reported in the news media. The New York Times is a bit different; here's what they say, in the article cited above:

The banned procedure, known medically as “intact dilation and extraction,” involves removing the fetus in an intact condition rather than dismembering it in the uterus.


It was also a vindication for the strategic choice the anti-abortion movement made 15 years ago, when the prospect of persuading the Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion seemed a distant dream. By identifying the intact procedure and giving it the provocative label “partial-birth abortion,” the movement turned the public focus of the abortion debate from the rights of women to the fate of fetuses. In short order, 30 states banned the procedure.

That, and when it gives the name of the law, which was decided by Congress, are the only times the NY Times refers to “partial-birth abortion” in the article.

Most of the media, though, use a stock phrase that they almost seem to have agreed upon:

The procedure, which opponents call “partial-birth abortion”, [...]
The media proceed to call it by its “provocative” name, coined by “opponents”, and rarely or never use the medical term. Does that not put them in the “opponent” camp? It's not just its “opponents” who call it that, after all; it's the opponents and the news media, and that gives the coinage more weight.

Why not this?:

The procedure, medically known as “intact dilation and extraction”, [...]
Or are the media too wedded, these days, to sensationalism to be medically correct and clear, and to avoid overly inflammatory characterizations? I have no doubt that if the news media had eschewed the provocative but inaccurate phrase from the start, we would never have gotten here, and we wouldn't be wondering how we're going to get women the medical help they need when they need it.


nina said...

I am so pissed off about this. Yet another example that this country doesn't give a crap about women. SCOTUS can bite me.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Let's not let anyone get away with claiming this is about protecting the fetus. We should all quote this from the Majority opinion (emphasis mine): "Other considerations also support the Court's conclusion, including the fact that safe alternatives to the prohibited procedure, such as D&E, are available. In addition, if intact D&E is truly necessary in some circumstances, a prior injection to kill the fetus allows a doctor to perform the procedure, given that the Act's prohibition only applies to the delivery of "a living fetus," 18 U. S. C. §1531(b)(1)(A). Planned Parenthood of Central Mo. v. Danforth, 428 U. S. 52, 77-79, distinguished."

Maggie said...

Thanks for the really interesting post, Barry, and thank you, TR,FCD, for your remark. I had recently posted on my blog that banning abortion is more about punishing women than saving a fetus. Many of the same people who want to ban abortion support the war in Iraq that has killed tens of thousands of civilians. These people don't care about saving innocent life. They care about punishing the "guilty."

Mario said...

What this country actually needs is a legislation voted on and decided by the people that will make it unfair for a woman to have an abortion in State A for any reason and another woman in State B to be denied an abortion for the same reason. Even if legislation is decided by Congress, it is better than a panel of judges deciding what is legal and what is not. Personally, I disapprove of aborting fetuses for any reason, other than for the health of the woman and maybe rape.