Kagan Hearings: Right-Wingers' Faux Outrage Over Abortion Answer Shows Scorn for Science
Welcome to another episode of “Righties Can’t Read.” Some rightie bloggers think they have found the smoking gun that will scuttle Elana Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, and I have no doubt this is all we’re going to hear about Kagan for the next several days. But if you actually understand the issue in question — which leaves out righties, naturally — you’d know there is no “there” there.
The accusation comes from Shannen W. Coffin, who was the deputy assistant attorney general in charge of the defense of the federal “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act” during the Bush administration. This thing is so badly written it’s hard to piece together exactly what happened when, and I’m not sure if Coffin is talking about something Kagan did regarding the Clinton-era federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which President Clinton vetoed in 1997, or Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), in which SCOTUS struck down a Nebraska ban on the D&E procedure, or what. Maybe all of that.
But here’s the story in a nutshell — in 1997, apparently in preparation for some court challenge or appearance (again, Coffin’s account of this is very muddy, so it’s hard to tell), Kagan worked with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) on a position paper in support of keeping legal the intact dilatation and evacuation (intact D&E; sometimes referred to as intact dilation and extraction, or D&X) procedure, which righties erroneously call “partial birth abortion.” And she suggested some changes to ACOG’s statement to strengthen its argument. ACOG signed off on these changes. Now righties are screaming that Kagan’s wording somehow fudged medical science, but it didn’t.
ACOG is America’s primary professional organization for obstetricians and gynecologists, and it represents 90 percent of U.S. board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists. ACOG’s position on the D&E procedure is that under some circumstances removing the fetus intact through the
uterus vagina puts less stress on the mother and has fewer risks than the alternative procedures.
The primary alternative procedures are to dismember the fetus in utero and remove it in pieces, or to remove it surgically through the abdominal wall. The first way carries a risk that surgical instruments could damage the uterus and that some piece of the fetus will be left inside, potentially becoming septic. The second way is major surgery and more stressful to the woman’s body generally. However, most of the time either of those procedures can be performed safely enough, even if D&E would be preferable. It is rare — although not unheard of — for the alternative procedures to pose substantially more risk than D&E. (In Wingnut World, of course, “rare” is the same thing as “never” when it comes to abortion risks, but in the real world that’s not quite how things are.)
Apparently an early draft of ACOG’s statement said “in the vast majority of cases, selection of the partial birth procedure is not necessary to avert serious adverse consequences to a woman’s health.” And Kagan realized that would be the only sentence in the document anyone would read. All of the rest of it explaining why D&E is sometimes preferred and occasionally necessary would be ignored. So Kagan suggested adding “An intact D&X, however, may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman” to clarify ACOG’s position.