The Kagan “Smoking Gun”? Hardly

It seems that the Right is all agog over this article in the "National Review" by Shannen Coffin, claiming that Elena Kagan "manipulated the statement of a medical organization to protect partial-birth abortion" while working in the Clinton White House.

Here is the gist of Coffin’s "bombshell":

There is no better example of this distortion of science than the language the United States Supreme Court cited in striking down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion in 2000. This language purported to come from a “select panel” of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a supposedly nonpartisan physicians’ group. ACOG declared that the partial-birth-abortion procedure “may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.” The Court relied on the ACOG statement as a key example of medical opinion supporting the abortion method.

Coffin points to this draft copy [PDF] of the ACOG statement which does not include the phrase “[An intact D & X] may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman." Instead, that phrase was handwritten in as a suggestion from Kagan.

The phrase was included in the final version and has apparently been cited by judges in cases involving the prodecure … and this is somehow proof that Kagan is willing to "override a scientific finding with her own calculated distortion in order to protect access to the most despicable of abortion procedures seriously twisted the judicial process" and therefore is unfit for the Supreme Court.

Of course, if you bother to actually read the document Coffin cites, or the final ACOG statement itself, it is abundantly clear that this one sentence fits with the overall position being advocated by ACOG, which was that any "legislation prohibiting specific medical practices, such as intact D & X, may outlaw techniques that are critical to the lives and health of American women. The intervention of legislative bodies into medical decision making is inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous.."

Here is the entire ACOG statement, so you can judge for youself wheter the inclusion of this one sentence in any way changes ACOG’s fundamental point or distorts science:

THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF OBSTETRICIANS AND GYNECOLOGISTS,

Washington, DC.

ACOG Statement of Policy

STATEMENT ON INTACT DILATATION AND EXTRACTION

The debate regarding legislation to prohibit a method of abortion, such as the legislation banning “partial birth abortion,” and “brain sucking abortions,” has prompted questions regarding these procedures. It is difficult to respond to these questions because the descriptions are vague and do not delineate a specific procedure recognized in the medical literature. Moreover, the definitions could be interpreted to include elements of many recognized abortion and operative obstetric techniques.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) believes the intent of such legislative proposals is to prohibit a procedure referred to as “Intact Dilatation and Extraction” (Intact D & X). This procedure has been described as containing all of the following four elements:

1. deliberate dilatation of the cervix, usually over a sequence of days;

2. instrumental conversion of the fetus to a footling breech;

3. breech extraction of the body excepting the head; and

4. partial evacuation of the intracranial contents of a living fetus to effect vaginal delivery of a dead but otherwise intact fetus.

Because these elements are part of established obstetric techniques, it must be emphasized that unless all four elements are present in sequence, the procedure is not an intact D & X.

Abortion intends to terminate a pregnancy while preserving the life and health of the mother. When abortion is performed after 16 weeks, intact D & X is one method of terminating a pregnancy. The physician, in consultation with the patient, must choose the most appropriate method based upon the patient’s individual circumstances.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 5.3% of abortions performed in the United States in 1993, the most recent data available, were performed after the 16th week of pregnancy. A preliminary figure published by the CDC for 1994 is 5.6%. The CDC does not collect data on the specific method of abortion, so it is unknown how many of these were performed using intact D & X. Other data show that second trimester transvaginal instrumental abortion is a safe procedure.

Terminating a pregnancy is performed in some circumstances to save the life or preserve the health of the mother. Intact D & X is one of the methods available in some of these situations. A select panel convened by ACOG could identify no circumstances under which this procedure, as defined above, would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman. 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, and only the doctor, in consultation with the patient, based upon the woman’s particular circumstances can make this decision. The potential exists that legislation prohibiting specific medical practices, such as intact D & X, may outlaw techniques that are critical to the lives and health of American women. The intervention of legislative bodies into medical decision making is inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous.

Approved by the Executive Board, January 12, 1997.