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Abortion doctor, in federal court, says he has ‘no idea’ whether the unborn feel pain

NEW YORK (BP)–A doctor who is challenging the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act told a federal judge March 31 he never thinks about whether an unborn child feels pain during an abortion.

Judge Richard C. Casey questioned Timothy Johnson of the University of Michigan Health System after cross-examination in the Southern District Court of New York. A trial notebook by American Center for Law and Justice chief counsel Jay Sekulow, who is attending the proceedings daily, recounted the exchange between the judge and doctor on the ACLJ’s website.

“Does the fetus feel pain?” Casey asked Johnson, referring to a dismemberment procedure in the second trimester.

“I have no idea,” Johnson answered.

“Are you aware that there are studies indicating that the fetus feels pain?” Casey asked.

“No, I have not seen those studies,” Johnson replied.

Casey then asked whether it had ever crossed Johnson’s mind as he conducts the procedures whether the fetus feels pain. The doctor hesitated and then said, “No, not really,” followed by a mumble.

“When you are consulting with a patient prior to the procedure, do you discuss the details that you are going to remove parts of their baby?” Casey asked.

“Yes, I do,” Johnson said.

“Do they ever ask if it hurts?” the judge said.

“No, they do not,” Johnson answered.

Casey then asked Johnson if he knows whether a partially delivered baby feels pain when scissors are inserted into the base of the skull.

“I am sure that the baby feels it, but I am not sure how the fetus registers it,” Johnson said.

“When you describe the procedure, do you tell the patient that the baby’s brains will be sucked out?” Casey asked.

“No, I do not describe it in those terms. I think I use other terms like cranial collapse,” Johnson replied.

“You make it nice and palatable, so that they would not understand what it is all about?” Casey asked.

“I use medical terminology in order to describe the procedure,” he said.

Johnson was “visibly shaken” by Casey’s questioning, Sekulow, one of the law’s supporters, said. Sekulow is observing the trial in Casey’s courtroom and reporting on it through the ACLJ website, www.aclj.org.

A similar version of the exchange also was reported nationally by the Associated Press.

Trials began March 29 not only in New York but in federal courts in San Francisco and Lincoln, Neb. Lawyers for the Department of Justice are arguing in all three cases that the partial-birth procedure is unnecessary to protect women’s health and results in pain for the unborn child. Lawyers for abortion-rights advocates, meanwhile, are contending the ban is too broad and is unconstitutional because it has no health exception.

Casey has ruled a physician whose research has shown an unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation will be able to testify as a government witness.

President Bush signed the ban into law in November, but opponents quickly brought suit, resulting in temporary orders against its enforcement in the three federal courts.

The partial-birth procedure normally involves the delivery of an intact baby, feet first, until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor pierces the base of the infant’s skull with surgical scissors, then inserts a catheter into the opening and suctions out the brain. The collapse of the skull provides for easier removal of the baby’s head. This typically occurs during the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

In addition to Johnson and other doctors who perform abortions, the National Abortion Federation is challenging the law in the New York court, the Center for Reproductive Rights in Nebraska and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in San Francisco.

The trials are expected to last from two to four weeks.

Congress twice adopted partial-birth abortion bans in the 1990s only to have President Clinton veto them both times. In both 1996 and 1998, the House achieved the two-thirds majorities necessary to override vetoes, but the Senate fell short.

The Southern Baptist Convention approved resolutions condemning the procedure in both 1996 and 2002.

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