An Abortionist Describes Abortion

by Jay Johansen

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Amidst the discussion of partial-birth abortions, one of the leading performers of late-term abortions, the late James McMahon, wrote a letter discussing the procedure. The letter was addressed to doctors who refer women to him for abortions. His purpose was apparently to reassure these doctors that there was good reason to perform late-term abortions, and so they shouldn't be frightened off by the bad publicity. While this is certainly a subject that could be debated, far more interesting than the point he was trying to make was the supporting argument he made along the way.

Lest anyone accuse me of quoting Mr McMahon out of context, here is the entire text of his letter:

Eve Surgical Centers
Medical Corporation

June 6, 1995


Dear Referrer,

In January 1992, a front page New York Times' article on 3rd trimester abortion was published. Three physicians were discussed, including myself. Since then, I have been asked some pointed questions. I am writing you to state our position on this very serious and controversial subject.

Although abortion is always a loss, in the 3rd trimester few tragedies compare. For example, this year we saw a professional woman of advanced maternal age who was being cared for by a well-known and much respected high risk obstetrician. Serial ultrasounds, MSAFP, and karyotyping were all normal. Thus reassured, the nursery was decorated and the crib made ready. There were baby showers.

Then, without warning, devastation fell upon this vulnerable couple. Their baby died, inexplicably, at 37 weeks. We successfully performed an intact D&E, but this was hardly curative. This level of heartrending loss leaves much to be treated. Effects ramify in many directions: to family, to friends and co-workers, even to the obstetrician. No one is spared.


The above case is not simply illustrative, but typical. As the baby grows, so does the emotional investment. In the final 3 months, it is enormous. It is not a fetus, it's their baby. Losing one's child is, perhaps, life's worst tragedy.


Sometmes the fetal flaw is grave, and, at the same time, the ultrasonographic findings quite subtle (e.g. Ebstein's Anomaly). Multiple opinions must be sought. To interrupt a wanted pregnancy, incident to an uncertain diagnosis, is a daunting prospect. Serial ultrasounds into the 3rd trimester may be necessary to clarify details and discover trends and, thereby, increase diagnostic certainty. All of this intensifies the patient's anguish. To draw an arbitary line at any week to force a decision means that we may have parents killing their wanted child while still in the womb. Merely waiting could salvage many of these children.

These are our most difficult problems. Thankfully, they are rare. The Guttmacher Institute and the CDC estimate only about 100 3rd trimester abortions are done in the United States per year. In 1991, we performed 65. All 3rd trimester abortions are, of course, non-elective.

Relative to other providers of abortion services, a high percentage of our referrals are for therapeutic indications (80% after 20 weeks). Members of this fragile group of patients cut across humanity. It is one of life's worst experiences.

Anyone who has this horror visited upon them needs and deserves our best efforts.


James T. McMahon, M.D.
Medical Director

As I mentioned, Mr McMahon was one of the leading performers of late-term abortions. He was even asked to submit information to Congress during the debates on partial-birth abortions. No one can challenge his credentials as an abortionist.

Now note some fascinating things from the mouth of one of an abortionist himself.

What is Abortion?

According to this abortionist, what is it that a pregnant woman has in her womb? Is it a "product of pregnancy"? A "glob of fetal tissue"? No, when describing the miscarriage at 37 weeks, he says "their baby died". Indeed, just a little later he flatly says that, at least in the final 3 months, "It is not a fetus, it's their baby".

According to this abortionist, is abortion just a routine medical procedure? Hardly. He says, "abortion is always a loss, in the 3rd trimester few tragedies compare". While I would challenge his definition of "therapeutic abortions", even at that, he describes it as "one of life's worst experiences" and a "horror".

Pro-abortion activists routinely dismiss the idea that the unborn child might be a human being, and ridicule the suggestion that abortion is a wrenching, painful experience for the mother. Yet it would seem that to someone who actually performs abortions routinely, rather than simply giving speeches about them, this is not a casual disposal of some annoying glob of tissue, but killing a baby, a horrible, agonizing experience.

Defending Late-Term Abortion

How he can so freely admit all this and perform abortions anyway, I find difficult to comprehend. His explanation is curious.

The gist of his argument appears to be that late term abortions are good because this allows the mother to delay making a decision until she is sure that the baby is not perfect and therefore should be disposed of. If it were against the law to commit an abortion after, say, 24 weeks, than a woman who thinks her child might have some defect might rush the decision at the 23rd week and, as Mr McMahon puts it, "we may have parents killing their wanted child while still in the womb".

In other words, his justification for late-term abortions appears to be that they are good because they might result in fewer abortions. As he puts it, we could "salvage many of these children". Surely the reply to this is obvious: all abortions should be illegal, and then his whole argument becomes irrelevant.

He anguishes over the possibility that a healthy child might be accidentally killed while he is on one of his search-and-destroy missions for "defective" children. Is this the standard that America has come to? Healthy, perfect children should be allowed to live, while sick or imperfect children should be killed?

Late-term abortion is good, McMahon explains, because it allows us to delay deciding whether to dispose of this child until we are sure that he meets our standards. But if it is a good idea to delay this decision until the third trimester, why not delay it even further, until we are absolutely sure? Why not wait until after the child is born, when we can clearly see whether or not he is defective? Once you accept the logic of abortion, what's the difference?


Two final curious points about this letter.

Mr McMahon begins his defense of late-term abortion with an account of a woman who had a miscarriage, and he then removed the dead baby from her womb. It is not clear what this has to do with abortion. While the mechanics of the procedure to remove a dead baby from the womb are very similar to the mechanics of the procedure used to kill and remove a live baby, they have nothing in common morally. In any case, the whole point of his story is how terrible it was that this poor baby died. So how does the fact that a death by natural causes is a tragedy, make deliberate killing a good thing? He never explains.

Finally, note that he reports that pro-abortion groups and the federal government estimate that there are only 100 third-trimester abortions per year, and then says that he himself committed 65 in one year. Surely it strains credibility to suppose that just one abortionist committed almost two-thirds of all the third-trimester abortions in the country! Clearly, there must be many more late-term abortions than the "official" statistics. On the other hand, we might rightly ask, "So what?" As I write this, the government is conducting an intensive investigation of a fatal plane crash that left about one hundred people dead. Suppose the owner of the airline had said, "Hey, what's the big deal, it's only a hundred people. We fly thousands safely every year." Surely we would conclude that this person was either totally lacking in humanity, or some kind of lunatic. I frankly don't much care whether there are a hundred third-trimester abortions per year, a thousand, or only four. No matter how many, it is a brutal, repulsive, senseless, evil act.


We've received an email objecting that we have misinterpreted the statement about the number of third-trimester abortions committed. "The Guttmacher Institute and the CDC estimate only about 100 3rd trimester abortions are done in the United States per year. In 1991, we performed 65." The letter writer says that when Mr McMahon writes, "we performed 65", he means "we abortionists", that is, all abortionists in the country combined. When I read this letter I interpreted "we" to mean "the abortionists who worked in Mr McMahon's practice". By this alternate reading, he is saying that 100 is typical and then gives one specific year and says the number then was 65. We cannot ask Mr McMahon what he meant because he is dead. It is certainly possible that this is what he meant, and if so, my comments above about understatement of the total number are not warranted by the text.

Posted Sep 4, 2000.
Updates: Sep 2, 2008. July 4, 2009.

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Copyright 1996 by Ohio Right to Life. Used with permission.
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