We keep adding it to our database of everything false or misleading from Trump, but the claim is so visceral and deceptive that it deserves its own fact check.
Most abortions are performed in the earlier stages of pregnancy. About 1 percent happen after the fetus reaches the point of viability. In short, the president is describing something that rarely happens and that no Democrat is calling for anyway.
Allow us to explain.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and some others who competed in the presidential primary, said they favored having no restrictions on abortion. (See these candidate surveys from The Washington Post and the New York Times to get a sense of where each Democrat stood on reproductive rights.)
Now, the only Democrat left in the race is former vice president Joe Biden, who does not take such a sweeping position. Biden supports abortion rights and says he would codify into statute the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade and related precedents.
Trump appears to have stopped repeating his claim after Super Tuesday (March 3), when Biden solidified his lead. The last recorded instance of Trump making this abortion claim is March 2 at a campaign rally in North Carolina. It was the last Trump rally held before lockdowns related to the novel coronavirus began.
But even before Biden surged, Trump’s attack line was seriously flawed, some experts said. That some Democrats support abortion rights doesn’t mean they support “extreme late-term abortions.”
“That’s like saying everyone who ‘supports’ the Second Amendment ‘supports’ school shootings,” Katie L. Watson, a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, wrote in an email.
“‘Abortion until the moment of birth’ does not exist — it’s a boogeyman abortion opponents have created to frighten voters and derail rational conversation about constitutional rights,” Watson wrote. “Nobody ‘supports’ it, and nobody does it. No patient ever asks a physician to end her pregnancy ‘the moment before birth,’ and no physician would agree to do it.”
The Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey say states may ban abortion after the fetus reaches viability, the point at which it can sustain life, which happens at or near the end of the second trimester. States with such bans must allow an exception “to preserve the life or health of the mother.”
These rulings don’t force states to ban abortions. Some states don’t have gestational-age restrictions, though most do. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 43 states have laws restricting abortion after the fetus reaches a certain gestational age.
Asked whether he supported restrictions, a Biden campaign representative previously told The Post that “Biden believes in the standard laid out by Roe and Casey.”
Contrast that with Sanders, who said “abortion should be safe, legal and accessible to every person who chooses it.” Or with Warren, who said she favored having no restrictions. “The decision whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term is one of the most personal decisions anyone can make,” Warren told the Times when asked about gestational-age limits. “We must not allow politicians to make this decision for parents and families just so they can score cheap political points.”
A Trump campaign official said “almost all of the 2020 Democratic candidates refused to endorse any limits on abortion, even when pressed.”
The official pointed to this line in the Times report: “Asked if they supported restrictions after 24 weeks — roughly when a healthy fetus can survive outside the womb, though viability varies from pregnancy to pregnancy — only Mr. [Joe] Sestak said yes. (Ms. [Tulsi] Gabbard, who did not complete the survey, has also said she supports restrictions in the third trimester.)”
There’s more to the story, though. Sanders and Warren both told the Times for the same survey that they would codify Roe. And they both co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act, which prohibits states from banning abortion before the fetus reaches viability (the Roe and Casey framework).
“Not all Democrats agree on the best legislative response to abortion regulation,” Watson wrote. “Some want to codify the Roe standard. Others want to regulate abortion like every other area of heath care, which in most states would mean deregulating it (lifting all restrictions except generally applicable ones about patient safety, facility and clinician licensure, etc.) and trusting patients and doctors to make individual decisions about what is right for them.”
Steven H. Aden, chief legal officer at Americans United for Life, said Trump’s remark was accurate because Democrats as a party favor abortion rights, and restrictions on abortion can be avoided through legal loopholes.
“In a companion case to Roe, Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court defined the ‘health exception’ in a wide-open fashion, allowing for ‘familial,’ ‘economic’ and ‘emotional’ considerations,” Aden wrote in an email. “This completely subjective ‘health exception’ is what gave us the ‘abortion on demand’ regime we’ve had since Roe. It is certainly true that a small minority of abortions occur in the late gestational ages (after about 20 weeks), and that only a few abortionists practice very late-term abortions such as third trimester abortions, but no abortion doctor would face any legal penalty for doing one based on virtually any subjective reason provided.”
The Pinocchio Test
The statistics hardly justify Trump’s description of babies being ripped from the womb — a horror story he has repeated dozens of times. About 1 percent of abortions happen after the point of viability, so the cases at issue in this debate would be relatively rare.
Trump also grossly exaggerated. Supporting abortion rights is not the same as supporting abortions. The Democrats in the presidential race appeared to be somewhat divided on abortion regulations, with some saying they favored no restrictions and others saying they favored limits based on settled law and Supreme Court rulings. They were not all marching in lockstep, as Trump invariably claims. Biden never went that far.
It’s good to see that the president seems to have dropped this line after Super Tuesday, but the instances before that get Three Pinocchios. We hope he doesn’t dust off this line when the rallies resume.
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