Distressing details

Language shapes the culture. Despite its true meaning, the term “pro-choice” seems to represent something worthy of support. In principle, we all like to “choose” and not have others controlling our lives. The pro-abortion cause, being framed as an issue of choice, has won the hearts of many. Let us explore some of the realities behind that hygienic term.

The Pilot is not a medical journal that typically describes details of gruesome procedures. But in this case, in the context of the challenge that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban is facing in three different courts, we bring to our readers a brief but telling bit of testimony given by a doctor detailing the procedure of partial-birth abortion. These excerpts, provided by the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are taken from an April 2 testimony in the New York case, National Abortion Federation, et. al. vs. Ashcroft. Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, the witness, fields questions from Judge Richard Conway Casey and from counsel for the plaintiffs Stephen Hut. A warning to readers: The testimony is brutal and graphic — reflecting the reality of the procedure.

Judge: I want to know whether that woman knows that you are going to take a pair of scissors and insert them into the base of the skull of her baby, of her fetus. Do you tell her?

Witness: I do not usually tell patients specific details of the operative approach. I’m completely —

Judge: Do you tell her that you are going to then, ultimately, suck the brain out of the skull?

Witness: In all of our D&Es [Dilation and Evacuation procedures] the head is collapsed or crushed and the brains are definitely out of the skull but those are —

Judge: Do you tell them that?

Witness: Those are details that would be distressing to my patients and would not — information about that is not directly relevant to their safety.

Judge: Don’t — whether it’s relative to their safety or not — don’t you think since they’re giving authorization to you to do this act that they should know precisely what you’re going to do?

Witness: That’s actually not the practice I have of discussing surgical cases with patients.

Judge: I didn’t ask you that. I said don’t you think they ought to know?

Witness: No, sir, I don’t.

Counsel: Do you tell a woman who is considering a D&E that the fetal arms, legs, extremities may be dismembered in the course of a dismemberment variation D&E, Dr. Westhoff?

Witness: I tell patients that we will remove all of the fetus from the uterus and membrane, the placenta and membranes from the uterus as safely as possible and that that proceeds somewhat differently for all patients.

Counsel: How often will it be necessary to collapse the fetal skull during D&E whether the D&E proceeds by a dismemberment or more relatively intact, doctor?

Witness: For the vast majority of D&Es [it will] be necessary to either crush or collapse the fetal skull.

Judge: Do you tell the woman that? Do you use the word crush?

Witness: Your Honor, I do not.

Judge: I didn’t think so.

When hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., April 25 for the right of women to “choose,” is that what they were defending — a savage attack on an unborn child whose skull is crushed or her body dismembered before she leaves her mother’s womb? Or could it be that no one ever told them what they are choosing?