The partial birth abortion of late-term fetuses is the most odious form of abortion, known as “dilatation and extraction” (D & X). The procedure, fully and gruesomely described in the major media and on the floor of Congress earlier this year, when President Clinton vetoed the bill that would have banned D & X, involves partially removing a late fetus from the womb, feet first, then pausing to insert a canula into the skull in order to suck out the brain, permitting the skull to collapse and the now-dead baby to be extracted with minimal damage to the woman’s cervix. This procedure, so gruesome that European observers refuse to believe that it is actually performed, might seem to be one that abortion promoters as well as opponents might agree to eliminate.

But to our surprise, the National Organization for Women, Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, and even President Clinton himself, among many others, have rallied to defend this procedure, which is never performed except late in pregnancy. A woman who had such an abortion in the ninth month of pregnancy, Vikki Stella, appeared with NOW in Washington to argue that the procedure must be permitted. Mrs. Stella knew that she was expecting a boy and had named him Anthony, but when her doctor told her that he would have a cleft palate and be a dwarf, she decided that she could not cope and resorted to the D & X procedure. She had the baby—she frequently used the term—cremated, and keeps the ashes in her home. If her two daughters ask, “What is that?” she can reply, “That was your brother Anthony. He was going to be misshapen, so a nice doctor killed him for me.” President Clinton threatened to veto the measure as “unconstitutional”—surely one of the most flexible words in the political vocabulary. The Senate now has passed a slightly amended bill. The procedure, as its advocates repeatedly tell us, is rare—but not so rare, on an annual basis, as the number of people killed by terrorist bombs each year.

Columnist Ellen Goodman, in whose eyes abortion of every kind appears to be a sacred rite essential for a woman to be fully human, objects that the banning of such abortions is only the first step toward banning abortion altogether. Although that is a desirable goal in the eyes of many of us, to assert that one dare not ban D & X abortions because it will lead to the prohibition of all abortions makes no more sense than to argue that the abolition of the gruesome medieval punishment of hanging, drawing, and quartering would inevitably lead to the abolition of punishment altogether.

Mrs. Goodman argues that it is not the business of Congress to ban any “medical procedure.” In addition to being an example of immoral extremism, her contention also illustrates the technique of giving an abomination a nice name and then approving it. Dr. Jack Kevorkian wants suicide and his industrious collaboration in it to be accepted as a medical procedure: adding the words “physician assisted” apparently makes suicide acceptable. Both Dr. Kevorkian and his attorney, Geoffrey Feiger, frequently lash out at those opponents who happen to have religious reasons, as though having religious convictions means instant disqualification for public debate.

Is there any procedure so gruesome that abortion advocates will relinquish it, that senators can identify it as evil without expert medical advice, or that President Clinton will not protect it by the use of his veto power? Apparently not. Those who call the Christian Coalition and its allies “extremists” should, if they want to find real extremism, look at those who defend “partial birth abortions” as just another “procedure.”