“Hillary Clinton supports that a child can be aborted any time up until the moment it is born, literally.”
–Carly Fiorina, interview on Fox Business Network, March 30, 2016
But we were also interested in her attack on Hillary Clinton’s abortion position. Is it correct that Clinton supports abortion up to the moment of birth?
First of all, most abortions take place early in the pregnancy. One-third take place at six weeks or pregnancy or earlier; 89 percent occur in the first 12 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Only 1.2 percent of abortions—about 12,000 a year– take place after 21 weeks. (The Supreme Court has held that states may not prohibit abortions “necessary to preserve the life or health” of the mother.)
On top of that, Guttmacher says that 43 states already prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy, such as fetal viability, in the third trimester or after a certain number of weeks. So this is already a rare procedure that is prohibited in much of the country.
Fiorina has supported federal legislative efforts to ban abortions 20 weeks after fertilization (effectively, 22 weeks after the last menstrual period), when the fetus can begin to be viable out the womb, with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a Fiorina spokeswoman, offered as evidence for Fiorina’s claim a statement by Clinton made in 2005: “This decision, which is one of the most fundamental, difficult and soul searching decisions a woman and a family can make, is also one in which the government should have no role.”
Flores highlighted the end of the statement, in which Clinton said the government should have no role.
But as always, context is important. We looked up Clinton’s full speech, which was given to the New York State Family Planning Providers. This sentence comes after Clinton has an extensive discussion about two extreme government actions in communist Romania and China.
In Romania, she recalled, the dictatorship decided it was the duty of every Romanian woman to have five children. So birth control and sex education was eliminated – and every month women were rounded up at workplaces to be examined if they were pregnant. Women who failed to conceive had to pay a celibacy tax of up to 10 percent of their salary, Clinton said.
Meanwhile, in China, the one-child policy meant some women were sterilized against their will or forced to have an abortion.
“So whether it was Romania saying you had to have children for the good of the state, or China saying you can only have one child for the good of the state, the government was dictating the most private and important decisions we make as families and as women,” Clinton said.
It’s at that point Clinton offers the observation that the “government should have no role.” Clinton immediately added: “I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women….This decision is a profound and complicated one; a difficult one, often the most difficult that a woman will ever make.”
So it’s pretty clear the 2005 statement cited by Fiorina has been taken out of context.
When Clinton was running for the Senate in 2000, a debate moderator actually noted that in some states a woman can “choose to abort a child either six months into the pregnancy or perhaps almost up to birth.” The moderator asked whether the candidates supported a government saying there are circumstance under which an abortion is not permitted.
Clinton answered: “I have said many times that I can support a ban on late-term abortions, including partial-birth abortions, so long as the health and life of the mother is protected. I’ve met women who faced this heart-wrenching decision toward the end of a pregnancy. Of course it’s a horrible procedure. No one would argue with that. But if your life is at stake, if your health is at stake, if the potential for having any more children is at stake, this must be a woman’s choice.”
After she became a senator, Clinton opposed the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003, which did not include a health exception. That law was later upheld by the Supreme Court.
More recently, during an appearance on Fox News on March 7, Clinton responded to a question from Bret Baier.
BAIER: Do you think a child should have any legal rights or protections before it’s born? Or do you think there should not be any restrictions on any abortions at any stage in a pregnancy?
CLINTON: Well, again, let me put this in context, because it’s an important question. Right now the Supreme Court is considering a decision that would shut down a lot of the options for women in Texas, and there have been other legislatures that have taken similar steps to try to restrict a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. Under Roe v. Wade, which is rooted in the Constitution, women have this right to make this highly personal decision with their family in accordance with their faith, with their doctor.
It’s not much of a right if it is totally limited and constrained.
So I think we have to continue to stand up for a woman’s right to make these decisions, and to defend Planned Parenthood, which does an enormous amount of good work across our country.
BAIER: Just to be clear — without any exceptions?
CLINTON: No. I have been on record in favor of a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.
I object to the recent effort in Congress to pass a law saying after 20 weeks, you know, no such exceptions, because although these are rare, Bret, they sometimes arise in the most complex, difficult medical situation.
BAIER: Fetal malformities and…
CLINTON: And threats to the woman’s health.
CLINTON: And so I think, under Roe v. Wade, it is appropriate to say, in these circumstances, so long as there’s an exception for the life and health of the mother.
The Pinocchio Test
We readily concede that some abortion opponents believe the “health” exception for abortion is a huge loophole that allows a woman to get an abortion very late in her pregnancy. But the fact remains that Clinton is on record as accepting that there can be restrictions to abortion well before the imminent birth of the baby.
Some might fault Clinton’s answers for not being especially precise. We are unaware of any specific legislative proposal Clinton has supported that would restrict late term abortions.
But that does not excuse Fiorina’s sweeping claim that Clinton “supports that a child can be aborted any time up until the moment it is born,” especially if her only evidence is an out-of-context quote from 11 years ago. Fiorina can criticize Clinton for her abortion stance but she can’t falsely assert that Clinton favors aborting a full-term baby.
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