What Trump Got Wrong About "Late-Term Abortion" At The State Of The Union

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg.
President Donald Trump decided to attack women's right to chose an abortion during his second State of the Union address, specifically railing against people who terminate their pregnancies in the third trimester.
Only 1.3% of all abortions in the US take place after 20 weeks of gestation, according to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life," the president, who has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade, said moments after mischaracterising recent pro-choice legislation introduced and passed in the states of Virginia and New York, respectively.
In Virginia, the stalled HB2491 bill would eliminate a rule that requires women seeking to have a third trimester abortion to have at least three doctors confirm the procedure "is necessary to prevent the woman's death or impairment of her mental or physical health," instead making it so pregnant people only need approval from one physician. Meanwhile, in New York, lawmakers decriminalised abortions after 24 weeks.
But Trump twisted the scope of the legislation, once again repeating his lie that these bills "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth." (He has said this often since the 2016 presidential election, when he also floated the idea of punishing women who have abortions.) Physicians have often said this simply does not happen in the United States and the president is lying.
Trump also lied about the comments Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam about third trimester abortion last week. The embattled Democratic governor addressed the bill and explained, from his perspective as a physician, what happens when women with nonviable pregnancies to go into labour. "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 desire, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother," he said. Trump, who often bends the truth to fit his worldview, accused Northam of saying he would "execute a baby after birth." This is not true.
Dr. Beverly Gray, an assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University, has previously told Refinery29 that the reasons women might seek abortion care at that stage of the pregnancy are complex and vary from case to case. "Many of these women are faced with pregnancies complicated by severe birth defects that can only be diagnosed at this stage of pregnancy. Other women are diagnosed with medical complications, such as cancer, where pregnancy can put their life at risk," she said. "Many teenagers don’t realise they are pregnant until the second trimester and often seek care later, especially if they are hesitant to disclose the news to their family. Because abortion after 20 weeks is more rare, there are fewer ob-gyn’s who provide this care, making it logistically difficult to find a doctor, which can also create delays."
Trump, in his State of the Union address, called for "Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb." But the reality is that anti-abortion lawmakers themselves are the ones forcing women to seek care at a later stage in the pregnancy. Abortion restrictions enacted at the state level — from waiting periods to limitations on medical abortion to targeted regulation of abortion providers, better known as TRAP laws — force clinics to close, cutting down where women can obtain abortion care, and make it harder for pregnant people to access the procedure before what anti-choice advocates condemn as "late stage."
Reproductive rights advocates called foul on the president's anti-abortion remarks.
"Shame on the president for using the State of the Union to vilify people who have abortions and the providers who care for them. Make no mistake: this is part of a larger agenda to eliminate access to abortion altogether," Megan Donovan, senior policy manager at Guttmacher Institute, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "It's critical to remember that the same anti-abortion politicians manufacturing public outrage by mischaracterising data and medical evidence around abortions later in pregnancy are simultaneously working to ban all abortions—at any point during pregnancy—and for any reason.”

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