February 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Abortion-Rights Advocates Defend Procedure Groups Dismiss Contention Public Misled About Frequency

New York Times
 

Advocates for the abortion-rights movement Wednesday dismissed the contention by a member of the movement that they had all knowingly misled the public about the circumstances and frequency of a particular late-term abortion procedure.

Ron Fitzsimmons, the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, based in Alexandria, Va., and representing more than 200 abortion clinics, has disputed three main contentions of abortion-rights advocates. He says the procedure is performed more frequently, earlier and on healthier women with healthier fetuses than the advocates acknowledge.

Both sides agree that no one, including the government, keeps reliable statistics on the procedure, called “partial birth abortion” by opponents and “intact dilation and extraction” by defenders.

At a 90-minute briefing Wednesday, four leaders of the abortion-rights groups had to be pressed repeatedly to respond to Fitzsimmons’ statements, in the March 3 issue of American Medical News. He said he had lied before to protect the movement but now could not watch the debate be engulfed by “spins” and “half-truths.”

Fitzsimmons contends that the vast majority of these abortions are performed on healthy women who have been pregnant at least 20 weeks with healthy fetuses.

Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said: “If he thinks he lied, that’s his problem. We have not.”

Defenders of the procedure maintain that such abortions are generally done late in the pregnancy and on women or fetuses with severe health problems. On Wednesday, Michelman and others acknowledged that these abortions were performed in the second trimester but not that they were done on healthy women with healthy fetuses.

Michelman suggested that if the public was confused, it was because the press may have misreported the facts, a notion that surprised abortion opponents, who contend that most reporters support abortion rights and passively accept the statements made by its advocates.

The abortion-rights movement has been on the defensive since abortion foes raised the late-term abortion issue on Capitol Hill last year in graphic terms that turned many people in Congress, including advocates of such rights, against it.

Fitzsimmons asserted that the advocates had mishandled the entire debate and jeopardized their credibility with everyone.

“Even the White House is now questioning the accuracy of some of the information given to it on this issue,” Fitzsimmons said.


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