Abortion Wars

How did late-term termination become the third rail in the abortion debate?

The recent murder of abortion doctor George Tiller has raised the stakes on one of the hardest issues any of us will ever face. Two women tell their stories.

On May 31, Dr. George Tiller, one of the last remaining providers of third-trimester abortions, was gunned down in the lobby of his Wichita, KS, church by a deranged abortion foe. While the pro-life movement condemned the murder, it has spent years trying to outlaw the kind of services he provided. Pro-choice advocates argue that late-term abortions are necessary to protect the health of the mother and that she should have full control of these decisions; they also claim efforts to ban specific practices are the first step toward outlawing abortion altogether. How did late-term termination become the third rail in the abortion debate?

2003 President Bush signs into law Congress's Partial Birth Abortion Act, banning a procedure called "intact dilation and extraction," which involves puncturing the fetus's skull so it can pass through the cervix when removed.

2007 The Supreme Court upholds the law, the first time the court has ever permitted a ban on a specific abortion procedure that doesn't include an exception for the mother's health.

2009 In March, a Kansas jury acquits Dr. Tiller of carrying out 19 illegal late-term abortions. (Prosecutors had accused Tiller of violating Kansas law by failing to get a second opinion by an independent doctor.) On May 31, Tiller was shot and killed in his Wichita church. Today, there are only two late-term abortion clinics left in the country.