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Stretching Abortion Truths

Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 8, 2019

During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Trump attacked New York and Virginia Democrats for promoting laws to allow “late-term abortion.” The only problem is that he was wrong in his assertions, unfairly stretching the truth to make them seem worse than they already might be for individual families.

Trump said he wanted to protect “children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” ridiculing New York’s recently passed Reproductive Health Act. Per Trump, lawmakers had “cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

It was a scary image he has used before, and it landed its expected emotional punch.

Now, the act was passed in New York to assure that women in the state would be able to continue to have the right to abortion, even if the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade precedent is somehow overturned by a new conservative court majority.

Trump also attacked the embattled Governor of Virginia for remarks in defending a Virginia law that would lower barriers for third-term abortion. The law would allow one doctor to offer advice rather than three. This Trump interpreted as the governor basically stating that he would execute a baby after birth.”

(Meanwhile, the Supreme Court took a step towards legal sanity and consistency yesterday, voting 5–4 to block Louisiana from severely limiting abortions by a law almost identical with a Texas law that the Court had struck down. The question here for the four-member conservative wing should have been what about precedent they do not support?)

Actually, late-term abortion as used in medical circles is rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that virtually all U.S. abortions occur within 13 weeks and two-thirds of abortions occur within eight weeks. About 1% of abortions take place after 21 weeks, and that most doctors say that it is only after 24 weeks that a fetus develops enough of a nervous system to feel “pain.”

Late-term abortion is a phrase used by abortion opponents to refer to abortions performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy. It is not the same as the medical definition obstetricians use for “late-term,” which refers to pregnancies that extend past a woman’s due date, meaning about 41 or 42 weeks. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s claim, late-term abortions do not allow “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, 43 states ban some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy. Seventeen states ban abortion after about 20 weeks post-fertilization on the grounds that the fetus can then begin to feel pain, according to the organization, though scientists say that is closer to 24 weeks. The new New York state law says a health provider may perform an abortion in the state before 24 weeks, if the fetus is not considered viable, or if the procedure is considered necessary to protect the woman’s life or health. Those are all similar to stipulations made by the Supreme Court.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam landed in abortion trouble last week while defending a Virginia law that would lower barriers for third-term abortions in the state. (He is the same Northam who acknowledged using blackface in dance competition.) The law would allow the procedures with the approval of one doctor, rather than the three that state law currently requires. “So in this particular example, if a mother’s in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen,” Northam said on a radio show. “The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” Nevertheless, Republicans attacked him for promoting infanticide.

Trump cited “the case of the Governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth.”

As with so many other cases, abortion decision s are complicated enough that people need to temper their emotional remarks with some actual fact before allowing the opinion to slip out.

I must say I am constantly surprised when I hear Trump and certain other Republicans push the implausible if not impossible excesses of abortion when they show almost no concern about the fate of children of migrant families taken from their parents or always finding ways to withhold money from food stamps and children’s health care.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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