A former abortion doctor praised a Texas law banning second-trimester abortions on living fetuses, telling a federal judge Monday that the regulation was intended to limit a “brutal procedure.”
Dr. Anthony Levatino of New Mexico said he had done about 1,200 abortions in the early 1980s, including 120 dilation and evacuation procedures that were the target of Senate Bill 8, before having a change of heart and becoming an advocate against abortion.
The procedure “is an absolutely brutal procedure in which a living human being is torn to pieces” by medical instruments after the 15th week of pregnancy, Levatino said.
During the first two days of the federal court trial in downtown Austin, abortion providers testified last week that the state law would force them to use untested, painful and risky procedures to attempt fetal demise before a second-trimester dilation and evacuation abortion.
In addition to placing women at higher risk of health complications, the doctors testified, the fetal-demise methods advocated by state lawyers are not fully effective, putting them in the difficult position of repeating the procedure — adding to the health risks for their patients — or face time in prison for violating the law.
State lawyers began chipping away at the arguments Monday by suggesting that abortion providers had exaggerated the difficulty and risks associated with two common forms of causing fetal demise — injections of digoxin or potassium chloride into the fetus.
Dr. David Berry, an Austin specialist in maternal-fetal medicine, estimated that he had injected potassium chloride into fetuses 150 to 200 times. All were successful in causing fetal demise, and none were affected by obesity, fibroid tumors or other factors that abortion providers had complained about last week, Berry said.
The procedure is not particularly difficult to teach to other doctors and can be done using the type of ultrasound equipment typically found in an obstetrician-gynecologist’s office, he said.
Berry also scoffed at claims by abortion doctors that the injections, typically done through a woman’s abdomen, raise the risk of infection. Introducing forceps into the uterus during a dilation and evacuation procedure is far more likely to cause an infection than a thin needle, he said.
State lawyers also called Dr. Farr Curlin, a professor of medical ethics at Duke University, who said the Texas restrictions on dilation and evacuation abortions were consistent with the ethical practice of medicine.
Unlike abortion-rights advocates who focus almost exclusively on the rights of the woman, the Texas law “merely requires that the fetus be given a minimal level of respect … by keeping them from being dismembered alive,” he said.
“It’s never ethical to intentionally kill an innocent human being,” Curlin said.
Carter Snead, a law professor and director of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, testified that he was chosen by the Texas attorney general’s office to put Texas’ abortion laws into a global perspective.
Of 194 nations studied, 178 have abortion laws that are more restrictive than Texas, Snead said, adding that SB 8 would move Texas only “incrementally” closer to most of the world’s nations.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel wondered aloud how the information could help him decide the constitutionality of the Texas law.
“I might question the relevance of this and some of the other witnesses,” Yeakel said, noting that he has to determine how SB 8 intersects with the “Supreme Court-defined right” to abortion.
The trial is scheduled to end Wednesday.