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‘Rip the baby out of the womb’: What Donald Trump got wrong about abortion in America

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar over partial-birth abortion during the third presidential debate in Las Vegas. (Video: The Washington Post)

During the final presidential debate Wednesday, Donald Trump blasted Hillary Clinton’s stance on abortion, employing graphic language to describe the late-term procedures he argued his opponent would allow.

“If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” Trump said.

“That is not what happens in these cases,” Clinton replied. “And using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate.”

Political rhetoric aside, Trump displayed a misunderstanding of how abortion works in the United States.

Doctors won’t perform the procedure at nine months. If a woman’s or fetus’s life is at risk, physicians can induce labor or authorize an emergency C-section. Intentionally killing the baby in the process would be illegal.

Why Tim Kaine can oppose abortion and still run with Hillary Clinton

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 43 states prohibit abortions at a certain point in pregnancy, such as when the fetus is capable of surviving outside of the womb — typically with exceptions for the woman's health. Fewer than 2 percent of all abortions in the United States are performed after the second trimester.

The vast majority happen in the first trimester: Ninety-one percent in 2012 occurred before the pregnancy reached 13 weeks, according to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 7.2 percent took place after 14 weeks gestation. Fewer than 1.3 percent happened after 21 weeks, late in the second trimester.

Abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy are extremely rare, but do happen. Earlier this year, the digital magazine Jezebel published an interview with an unnamed 35-year-old woman who had an abortion at 32 weeks gestation, after learning that the fetus would be born with birth defects.

“What I came to accept was the fact that I would never get to be this little guy’s mother — that if we came to term, he would likely live a very short time until he choked and died, if he even made it that far. This was a no-go for me. I couldn’t put him through that suffering”

In recent years, women have written about their late-term abortions in efforts, they say, to break the taboo.

The gruesome language anti-abortion activists are using to win support

In a March essay for Cosmopolitan, Kelly Cervantes, 33, described her experience terminating her pregnancy at 20 weeks gestation, after her doctor told her baby would not survive outside the womb.

“Gravely, she told us that if our baby survived birth, he would die soon after,” she wrote. We made a choice we would not have imagined before that 20-week exam. A choice that wasn't really a choice at all.”

In a 2009 essay, published on Rewire, Cecily Kellogg shared her story of having an abortion at 23 weeks.

“A group of doctors stood at my bedside and delivered the worst news I’d ever received,” she wrote. “I would soon likely suffer a stroke or a heart attack. In other words, I was going to die unless the pregnancy was terminated. Immediately.”

Kellogg wrote that, although she was devastated by the loss, she felt lucky to be alive.

“With the help of other women like me, I grieved,” she wrote. “I healed. I tried again, and in June of 2006, my wild and fierce daughter Victoria was born.”

 More from Wonkblog:

95 percent of women who've had an abortion say it was the right decision

The odd thing Justice Kennedy noticed about abortion in Texas

Why women are afraid to tell employers they're pregnant