Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court in upholding the ban on partial birth abortions on April 18, 2007. It is astonishing to read the opinion (PDF). The detail with which abortion is discussed exceeded my expectation. Kennedy’s own descriptions of the various forms of abortion are explicit and extensive. Descriptions of the procedure of partial birth abortion (“intact dilation and extraction”) are given from both doctors’ and nurses’ perspectives.
For example, one nurse described the procedure on a twenty-six-week-old “fetus” as follows—and remember this is a quote from Justice Kennedy’s official Supreme Court decision:
Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby’s legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby’s body and the arms—everything but the head. The doctor kept the head right inside the uterus. . . . The baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head, and the baby’s arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall. The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening, and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby went completely limp. . . . He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw the baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used. (p. 8)
There is a certain irony to the argument for the Supreme Court’s ruling. One argument against the necessity of a health exception for the mother was that alternative methods of abortion are legally available, if necessary, even at this late stage in the pregnancy. For example, the ordinary D&E (dilation and extraction). The irony is that the Court concedes that the “the standard D&E is in some respects as brutal, if not more, than intact D&E” (p. 6). In other words, in normal, legal abortions, the baby is torn apart limb from limb while still in the womb, but in a partial birth abortion, the baby is mercifully spared the dismemberment and his brains are quickly sucked out of his head.
Such are the contorted conditions in which we find ourselves: The proposal of a manifestly barbaric law (permitting the brain evacuation of a partially born child) is defeated by the legal standing of a more barbaric law (permitting the dismemberment of a child in the womb). But the history of Providence has many such stories to tell—great evils finally being self-destroyed, like a python swallowing its own tail.
Pro-abortion politicians tremble as they see it coming. Barack Obama worries that “this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose.” The Supreme Court erred, he said, because partial birth abortion is “a matter of equal rights for women.”
This use of catch phrases is surely tired. “Right to choose.” “Equal rights for women.” The grandchildren of the sixties are waking up to the vagueness and danger of those phrases. Right to choose what? Anything? All laws that protect children limit the rights of moms (and dads) to choose. You can’t choose to starve them. You can’t choose to lock them in closets for three weeks. You can’t choose to abandon them. You can’t choose to strangle them five minutes after they are born.
And “equal rights for women”—equal with whom? Equal with the irresponsible dad. Dad has sex and bears no responsibility for the baby. Mom should be equally able to have sex and bear no responsibility for the baby. Young people are looking at this and saying: Something is wrong with this picture. Maybe our lives are as broken as they are because our parents have twisted their hearts and minds so deeply to justify equality in irresponsibility.
Hillary Clinton opposes the Supreme Court decision because “the rights and lives of women must be taken into account.” Yes. That is mainly what this forty-page opinion of the court does. Read it. And it will be interesting whether Senator Clinton will have any opinion about moms and dads who want to abort their little girls, but not their little boys. I think the younger generation may ask the senator: Should the life of little women be taken into account, or only big women?
I pray that ahead and behind of the delegalization of abortion will flow waves of inner repentance as we awaken to the outrage of assaulting God’s image-bearers in the very moment of his knitting them together in their mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13).