MediaWatch: October 1996

Vol. Ten No. 10

Impartial on Partial-Birth

Cutting through the rhetoric forwarded by both sides of the partial-birth abortion debate, in The Washington Post's September 17 Health section reporter David Brown found wanting some media- held assumptions about the issue.

Brown exposed inaccuracies in many abortion supporters' arguments. At the veto ceremony of the partial-birth abortion bill, Clinton said, these women "`represent a small, but extremely vulnerable group They all desperately wanted their children. They didn't want abortion. They made agonizing decisions only when it became clear that their babies would not survive, their own lives, their health, and in some cases their capacity to have children in the future were in danger.'" But Brown uncovered that "Doctors say that while a significant number of their patients have late abortions for medical reasons, many others ­ perhaps the majority ­y do not."

Brown also examined the procedure from a perspective not usually focused on by the media: the baby's point of view. Since the partial-birth procedure is usually done in the second and third trimesters of gestation, is it possible the last minutes of the child's life are spent in excruciating pain? Brown determined the answer is not fully known: "Scientists must deduce pain's presence (or absence) by looking for the psychological signs of the sensation. Those include hormones and other biochemicals that appear in the bloodstream when pain is produced, as well as more subjective signs, such as facial grimaces or the movement of limbs. Nobody can say, for certain, however, whether these things denote pain in a developing human being."