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ABOUT | ‘Partial-birth’ abortion

The term partial-birth abortion describes an abortion technique used in the final months of pregnancy, during which there is an intervaginal partial birth of the living fetus: the content of the brain is then sucked out before delivery is complete.

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According to those who champion this method of abortion, it can be rapidly performed without hospitalization under a local anaesthetic. The abortion is preceded by a three-day preparation involving mechanical dilation of the cervix. The operation takes place in five stages: first, guided by ultrasound, the person carrying out the abortion, possibly after reversing the position of the fetus in the uterus, takes hold of the feet with forceps. He then draws the legs of the fetus from the womb causing the birth and extracting the baby’s whole body apart from the head. Next, he makes an incision at the base of the infant’s skull through which he inserts the point of a pair of scissors to puncture the cranium. A tube is then inserted through which the brain and the content of the cranium are sucked out. At this point, to conclude the abortion, the head, now reduced in size, is extracted and the dead infant delivered.

partial-birth abortion

Pros & Cons of Partial Birth Abortion

Arguments For
There are two categories of arguments in support of partial-birth abortions: medical and logistical/personal reasons.

Medical Reasons For Partial-Birth Abortions

Medical conditions and indications may develop after the first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy that could threaten the mother’s life and/or health. Late-occurring medical conditions can include:

— Heart failure
— Severe or uncontrollable diabetes
— Serious renal disease
— Uncontrollable hypertension (high blood pressure)
— Severe depression

Medical conditions of the fetus may become known or could develop after the first trimester of pregnancy, such as severe deformities and genetic disorders, which may cause the woman to seek an abortion.

Common Logistical and Personal Reasons for Partial Birth Abortions

— Lack or lack of recognition of pregnancy symptoms, particularly by adolescents
— Inability to afford a first trimester abortion
— Inability to locate medical assistance during first trimester (due to lack of local medical professionals)
— Lack of financial resources, emotional support, and/or partner

Arguments Against

Supporters of a ban on partial-birth abortion argue that it’s not merely a medical procedure, but is infanticide. Their logic is as follows: if a partial, breech delivery is used in the procedure, a birth occurs for constitutional purposes, as well as a newly-born person with the usual constitutional rights.

Religious leaders are near unanimous in their condemnation of partial-birth abortion as immoral and wrong. Most religious faiths, though, believe that exceptions must be made to save the life and usually the health of the mother.

“Jewish law states that a fetus becomes a person after its head has emerged. Most partial-birth abortions occur only after the baby’s navel has appeared. Rabbis believe…that a mother may not make a decision to have an abortion based on convenience, nor may she may look at the half-born child and decide the baby is not what she wanted. However, there remains debate over whether or not a partial-birth abortion is permissible if the procedure saves the mother,” writes Maya Berezovsky of college outreach of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops takes a clear stance, “…it makes no sense to say one must kill a child who is more than half born to advance the mother’s health instead of simply completing a live delivery.

Staunch pro-choice groups fear that conservatives are using the partial-birth abortion issue as a first step in redefining and restricting abortion rights.

How Safe Are In-Clinic Abortion Procedures?

Safety is an important and common concern for women. In-clinic abortion procedures are very safe. But there are risks with any medical procedure. The risks increase the longer you are pregnant. They also increase if you have sedation or general anesthesia. Possible risks include:

  • an allergic reaction
  • blood clots in the uterus
  • incomplete abortion — part of the pregnancy is left inside the uterus
  • infection
  • injury to the cervix or other organs
  • undetected ectopic pregnancy
  • very heavy bleeding

Most often, these complications are simple to treat with medicine or other treatments.

In extremely rare cases, very serious complications may be fatal.

The risk of death from childbirth is 11 times greater than the risk of death from an abortion procedure during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

After 20 weeks, the risk of death from childbirth and abortion are about the same.
Overall, the risk of death from abortion increases the longer a woman has been pregnant.

Serious complications may have warning signs. Call your health care provider right away if you have:

  • very heavy bleeding — if you pass clots larger than a lemon or soak through more than two maxi pads an hour, for two hours or more in a row
  • pain or discomfort that is not helped by medication, rest, a hot water bottle, or a heating pad
  • a fever
  • vomiting for more than four to six hours and you are not able to keep anything down
  • an unpleasant, smelly discharge from your vagina
  • signs that you are still pregnant

What Can I Expect After an In-Clinic Abortion?

Your health care provider will let you know what to do and what not to do after your abortion. Many of us feel shy about asking questions, but your provider is there to help you. Feel free to get answers to all of your questions. You might even find it helpful to make a list before you see your health care provider so you remember the questions you want to ask.

Right after your abortion …

You will rest in a recovery area.
If you have an Rh-negative blood type, you will receive a shot to protect your future pregnancies.
You will receive written after-care instructions and a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week telephone number you can call if you have any questions or concerns.

Depending on which clinic you visit, you may be able to have an IUD inserted at the same time as your abortion procedure. If you want an IUD, ask the clinic when you schedule your abortion procedure if would be possible to have an IUD inserted at the same time.

You will make a follow-up appointment to come back in 2 to 4 weeks.

Do not drive after the procedure if you’ve had sedation.

You can usually return to work or other normal activities the next day. Recovery after D&E may take longer.

You may bathe as soon as you wish. Do not douche or use medicines in your vagina.


You may have a wide range of feelings after your abortion. Most women ultimately feel relief after an abortion. Some women feel anger, regret, guilt, or sadness for a little while.

Serious, long-term emotional problems after abortion are about as uncommon as they are after giving birth. You may be more likely to have emotional problems after abortion for certain reasons. Some of these reasons are:

  • having a history of emotional problems before your abortion
  • having important people in your life who aren’t supportive of your decision to have an abortion
  • having to terminate a wanted pregnancy because your health or the health of your fetus is in danger

If you want to talk with someone after an abortion, abortion providers can talk with you or refer you to a licensed counselor or to nonjudgmental support groups.


Abortion begins a new menstrual cycle. You should have a regular period in 4 to 8 weeks.


Many health care providers recommend that you not have vaginal intercourse or insert anything except a tampon into your vagina for one week after the abortion.

You can get pregnant very soon after an abortion. So, birth control is an important and common concern for many women after abortion. Talk with your health care provider about getting a birth control method that’s best for you.

Where Can I Get an In-Clinic Abortion? How Much Does It Cost?

In the USA, visit a Planned Parenthood health center, a clinic, or a private health care provider to find out about where you can get an abortion. Planned Parenthood health centers that do not provide abortion can refer you to someone who does.

In America, the cost at health centers ranges from about $350 to $900 for abortion in the first trimester. The cost is usually more for a second-trimester abortion. Costs vary depending on how long you’ve been pregnant and where you go. Hospitals generally cost more.

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