The Inception Deception

'Partial-Birth' Ploy Threatens Abortions, Forces Legal Challenges

"It could definitely affect what I do," says Paul Blumenthal, a provider of abortions and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins University. Even if he doesn't begin with the intention of performing any of the steps outlined in the law, Blumenthal says, things can change quickly during the course of an abortion: "Something can happen and then I have to proceed in a way that can cross the line. I wouldn't have time to call the legislature and get an injunction."

Of course, for abortion providers to actually get arrested, there would have to be witnesses. "All you need is a couple of zealots," explains Wendy Chavkin, chairperson of the New York-based Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. "If some anti-abortion nurse teams up with a prosecutor, a physician could face these trumped-up allegations and prison." Indeed, there is precedent for anti-abortion medical practitioners spurring prosecutions of their colleagues. In 1975, Massachusetts physician Ken Edelin was indicted for manslaughter after performing a legal abortion at Boston City Hospital—based on a tip from operating room staff. While any arrest can't happen until the court challenge is decided, the possibility is enough to deter some doctors. "Physicians have known for a while that abortion providers have to face picketers, harassment, the harassment of their families, and bullets," says Chavkin. "Now they have to worry that somebody is going to make this claim against them."

illustration: Patricia Copeland

Some doctors may think they're impervious to the threat, though—or maybe it's that the ban's coy legal language is truly lost on them. Albert Thomas, director of obstetrics and family planning at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, has done "hundreds and hundreds" of second-trimester abortions. Many of these women, he says, knew they wanted abortions early in pregnancy but ended up in the second trimester because of problems finding payment. Others came from states where they couldn't find abortion providers. Others, like Audrey Eisen, didn't discover problems with the fetus until well into pregnancy. Though confusion over the ban may tie up the courts for years to come, to Thomas the matter is simple: "I don't do anything called a 'partial-birth' abortion," he says, "because that just isn't a medical procedure."

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