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Answering the CBS Fact Checkers on Abortion

Trent Horn

The subject of abortion came up in the third and final presidential debate last week and the “fact checkers” have come out to say late-term abortion is an overblown bogeyman created by pro-life advocates. I’m not going to do my own fact check of every statement made in the debate, but I do want to examine some of the common pro-choice tropes in this piece from cbsnews.com:

“[T]he vast majority of U.S. abortions occur early in pregnancy. In 2012, 91 percent of abortions in the U.S. took place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, while just 1.3 percent occurred at 21 weeks or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute.”

This is true but misleading. Since 1.06 million abortions occur each year in the U.S., that still means about 10,000 late-term abortions occur annually. To put that into perspective, about 8,900 people were murdered in the U.S. in 2012 through the use of firearms. If that number of deaths justified inclusion of gun control in the last presidential debate, then a similar number of abortion-related deaths justified discussing late-term abortion in that same debate.

Most states have laws that place restrictions on abortions at some point in pregnancy—for example, many states ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and others ban abortions after a fetus is viable (meaning it could survive outside the womb), which is often defined as either week 22 or week 24 of pregnancy. After the specified time point, the only way for a woman to obtain an abortion in many states is if the pregnancy threatens her health or life.

Late-term abortions rarely health related

Roe v. Wade allowed but did not require states to ban abortion in the third trimester. If states banned abortion in the third trimester, they had to allow an exception for abortions deemed necessary to protect a woman’s health. The problem with this exception is that Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton, ruled that “health” included any factor that was “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, [or related to] the woman’s age.” Abortion provider Warren Hern has even argued that a child unwanted by his mother can be considered a “health risk.” He writes, “It appears that ‘unwantedness’ may be regarded as a major complication of pregnancy with surgical intervention in the form of abortion as the indicated treatment.”[1]

A 2013 study on women who obtained abortions in the second and third trimesters found that most women obtained late-term abortions for financial or social reasons rather than health concerns. It stated, “[S]eeking a later abortion was unrelated to women’s reasons for seeking an abortion. Thus, among women without fetal anomalies, reasons for seeking abortion are not different whether women sought abortion early or late in pregnancy.”[2]

A Washington Times article about the study concluded, “[R]esearchers found that women in general delayed getting abortions if they are unsure they are pregnant, aren’t sure they want an abortion, and are disagreeing with the baby’s father.”

“Problems with the health of the fetus, including severe birth defects, can also lead to late-term abortions. . . . In these circumstances, practitioners can either induce labor (which means the baby is delivered and may die from the birth defects shortly afterward) or perform a modified abortion. Oftentimes, when a late-term abortion is performed for serious birth defects, it is because inducing labor would be hazardous for the woman, Gunter wrote.”

First, even abortionists admit that birth defects do not comprise the majority of late-term abortions. Martin Haskell, the abortion provider who invented the partial-birth abortion procedure, admits that most procedures he performed were elective and not done to preserve a woman’s health. In testimony before Congress, he said, “I’ll be quite frank. Most of my abortions are elective in that 20 to 24 week range. . . . In my particular case, probably 20 percent are for genetic reasons. And the other 80 percent are purely elective.”[3]

Second, if a woman’s life is threatened late in pregnancy after the fetus is viable, and since it takes longer than a day to stretch the cervix wide enough to abort such a large fetus, doesn’t it make more sense to simply deliver the child by C-section?[4] I often ask pro-choice advocates, “Wouldn’t it be better to deliver the child whole and give him a chance to live (even if the chance is small) as opposed to delivering him in pieces with no chance to live?”

Abortion alternatives

Even if a child were diagnosed with a terminal condition like anencephaly, which occurs when the child is born without an upper brain and will die a few hours or days after birth, that would not justify abortion. Consider the case of a two-year-old who tragically finds his dad’s gun and blows off the top of his head. As he lies in the hospital dying from his injuries (which would mirror the plight of an anencephalic child), we would certainly do everything we could to ease this child’s suffering, but most people wouldn’t condone killing the child.

It’s also important to remember that many children who are aborted due to a “fetal deformity” actually have mild conditions (or are even healthy and the diagnosis was incorrect). These mild conditions can include cleft palate or clubfoot, both of which can be treated with surgery. Other abortions due to fetal deformity are because the child has Down syndrome. This condition is neither terminal nor debilitating, and people with Down syndrome are able to lead happy and productive lives.

In conclusion, abortion is horrifying, and late-term abortion constitutes an especially grotesque horror that even ambivalent pro-choice advocates can recognize. Perhaps that’s why most defenders of legal abortion want to sanitize descriptions of late-term abortion and paint these procedures as occurring only in the direst of circumstances. Otherwise they know that the logical conclusion of this thinking is that the intentional killing of an innocent human being through the act of abortion is always wrong ,regardless of the age of the human being who is killed.

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Notes

[1] Warren Hern, “Is Pregnancy Really Normal?”, Family Planning Perspectives 3, No. 1, January 1971

[2] M. Antonia Biggs, Heather Gould, and Diana Greene Foster, “Understanding why women seek abortions in the U.S.,” BMC Women’s Health 13 no. 29, 2013

[3] H.R. 1833, Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995, “Factsheet.” Haskell’s comments can be found in the newsletter of the American Medical Association, American Medical News, July 5, 1993, 21.

[4] Warren Hern, Abortion Practice, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1984, 106.

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