By focusing on late-term abortions, which are exceedingly rare, the president paints an inaccurate and misleading picture.
February 8 at 10:50 AM
In the past couple of days, President Trump has taken on the so-called scourge of late-term abortions.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, he proposed a ban on late-term abortion “of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.” He attacked politicians in New York and Virginia on the issue.
“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth,” he said. “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.
“Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life,” he said. “And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.”
Trump’s State of the Union mischaracterized both situations. Last month, New York passed an act that codifies a woman’s right to an abortion and brings state law more in line with the Roe v. Wade ruling. The new law says women may have an abortion after 24 weeks if her “life and health” are at risk. It also decriminalizes abortion. The Virginia measure, which did not pass, would have reduced “the number of doctors who would have to certify late-term abortions are needed from three to one. It would also delete the requirement that doctors determine that continuing a pregnancy would ‘substantially and irremediably’ impair a woman’s health. Instead doctors would only have to certify that the woman’s health was impaired,” according to the Associated Press.
In a New York Times op-ed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) wrote that the president misrepresented his state’s Reproductive Health Act. “This is about the desire of Mr. Trump and allies on the right to outlaw abortion entirely. It is about bringing America back to the pre-Roe days,” he wrote. “Mr. Trump and the religious right are spreading falsehoods about New York’s law to inflame their base. Activists on the far right continue to mislead with the ridiculous claim that the act will allow abortions up to a minute before birth.”
Even so, at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Trump returned to that message.
“As part of our commitment to building a just and loving society, we must build a culture that cherishes the dignity and sanctity of innocent human life. All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God,” he said.
But the president’s remarks obscure important points about the procedure.
Late-term abortions take place during or after the 21st and 24th week of pregnancy, late in the second trimester but not “minutes from birth.” It’s for that reason that doctors and scientists don’t like the term “late-term abortion” because they think it’s misleading and imprecise, allowing people to believe that they are taking place when a woman has reached a full-term pregnancy.
It’s also exceedingly rare.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that of abortions performed in 2015, 1.3 percent of them were “late-term” — performed at or past 21 weeks of gestation. More than 91 percent were performed at or before 13 weeks — the first trimester.
Though most Americans believe that abortion should be legal, few believe late-term abortions should be legal. According to a Gallup poll from May 2018, 13 percent of respondents support abortion in the third trimester.
And perhaps that explains the Republican Party’s obsession with the issue. Late-term abortions are rare and unpopular. But by painting a sensational and inaccurate picture of a procedure that most Americans already don’t support, the president can excite his base without suffering consequences.