In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump repeated a popular talking point among Republicans recently: that Democrats want to pass legislation that would “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.”
That’s a lie, but not one we can brush off as just another of the president’s many falsehoods because this particular lie serves a specific and dangerous purpose. The GOP wants to drum up outrage over so-called “late-term abortion” as a way to distract from their extreme—and deeply unpopular—move to ban early abortions and make it impossible for women to end their pregnancies at all. And it’s working.
Instead of talking about Republicans’ move to outlaw early abortion—which is when most terminations happen—the national discourse around reproductive rights is focused on rarely performed procedures that almost always happen because of fetal abnormalities or a risk to women’s health.
The vast majority of abortions in America—over 91 percent—are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy. Even after that, most abortions still happen before 20 weeks. In fact, it’s only a little over one percent of abortions that are performed past the 21st week of pregnancy.
This is not to say we shouldn’t be talking about later abortions. They’re a reality, often a tragic one, and the women who have them deserve to be heard. A recent study found that only four percent of news stories on abortion feature the experiences of women who have actually had one.
If the GOP wants to curb later abortions, they could start by removing the hurdles women face to get an early one.
But here’s the truth Republicans don’t want to face: Outside of health considerations and fetal abnormalities, the reasons women are obtaining abortions past the first trimester are directly related to GOP-led efforts to curb the procedure. Most women who have abortions in the second trimester say they would have liked to end their pregnancies earlier, but cite problems with insurance coverage, geographical distance, and waiting periods—all issues created by Republican state-level laws.
If the GOP wants to curb later abortions, they could start by removing the hurdles women face to get an early one. But the point has never been to stop late abortions, but to stop all abortions.
The problem for Republicans is that this is decidedly not what Americans want. Support for Roe is at a historic high, and 58 percent of those surveyed say abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.” Those are difficult numbers for the GOP, the most difficult they’ve faced in years. Pontificating about “third trimester abortions” or “infanticide” shifts the focus away from their unpopular agenda.
Here’s what the laws in New York and Virginia actually do: They make it easier for women facing tragic circumstances to make compassionate and healthy decisions with their doctors and families. They remove hurdles that would force women to carry dying babies to term or that put women’s health and lives in danger by requiring multiple doctors to sign off on the procedure.
This is personal for me. I got ill, deathly ill, when I was pregnant. I was incredibly fortunate to be far enough along that my daughter could be delivered and my life saved. If I had gotten sick weeks earlier, though, I would have been facing a different, horrible, decision. These are complicated and personal issues; issues that cannot be made with the interference of legislators.
The next time you hear a Republican talking about late-term abortion, remember what they’re really arguing: that women are not to be trusted, that we should ignore how their laws make early abortion near-impossible, and that faux outrage should trump the health of women and families.