By Kayla Santos
“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth…To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”
– President Donald Trump, 2019 State of the Union Address
The act that Trump is incorrectly referring to is the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), New York state’s most recent update on abortion rights. Amending an act from the 70s, the RHA decriminalizes abortions after 24 weeks and adds the clause that an abortion can be performed when “there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
So, no, the Reproductive Health Act does not legalize the ripping of a baby from its mother’s womb just before birth; that’s a C-section and is already legal. What the RHA does do is amend an almost 20-year-old law that could criminally penalize a doctor for performing a late-term abortion on someone whose newborn would not survive out of the womb or whose health is being severely threatened by carrying the baby.
Trump is not the first to spout this type of extreme language against abortion. Anti-choice lawmakers have been trying to push the prohibition of all late-term abortions since before Roe v. Wade and have garnered support by pushing rhetoric that is extremely dangerous to those who actually receive late-term abortions.
In a 2015 House Judiciary Committee hearing on Planned Parenthood, House Republicans brought in Dr. Anthony Levatino, an OB/GYN and former abortion doctor to testify on how abortions are performed. He describes a D&E (dilation and extraction), one of the types of abortions performed in the second trimester, in graphic detail. And while his descriptions are accurate, his testimony uses exaggerated language like “tearing out” the fetus to make his point that he believes these types of abortions are wrong.
Many people who want to restrict abortion cite this same language that Trump and Dr. Levatino use; pro-lifers and even pro-choicers see unborn babies as humans since many believe that life begins at conception. I’d like to acknowledge this argument because I understand its validity and why people want to protect the life of the fetus. Many people who are pro-choice aren’t “anti-life;” they just believe that people have the right to choose what happens with their bodies. But those against abortion also cite the idea that those who undergo abortions undergo psychological damage as a result. Abortion can be a traumatizing experience, but radical anti-abortion propaganda–claiming murder, citing fetal pain, exaggerating abortion procedures–is even more dangerous to those who choose abortions than the abortions themselves because of who actually get them. So who are the targets of these anti-abortion attacks?
Contrary to what politicians might make it seem, second and third term abortions make up less than 10% of all abortions; 91.1% of all abortions are performed at less than 13 weeks gestation which would be considered the first term and not a late-term abortion. This means that the politics surrounding abortions and the constant push to ban late-term abortions applies to less than 10% of those who actually get abortions.
Moreover, those who get late-term abortions are almost always those affected by the abortion rights that Roe v. Wade protects–people who wished to conceive, but whose health is at stake because of the pregnancy or are carrying fetuses that are no longer viable. Others who wanted an abortion in the first trimester have “experienced logistical delays (e.g., difficulty finding a provider and raising funds for the procedure and travel costs), which compounded other delays in receiving care.” This means that, if abortion care and healthcare in general were more accessible in the United States, that the 10% of late-term abortions performed would be even lower.
This is why it is so dangerous to speak of abortion in such unforgiving terms. If someone is getting an abortion, they already know what they are doing. They have been informed of the procedure, they’ve been informed of other options, and they’ve weighed all the pros and cons of their decision. Abortion is not a spur of the moment decision, and it is not used as a form of contraception, which is what pro-life misinformation makes it seem like. This type of talk pushed by “pro-life” politicians vilify those who, after long and hard contemplations, choose to get abortions. So not only do these people have to deal with the physical impact on their bodies and the emotional impact of choosing to terminate, they have to deal with the guilt that is placed on them by politicians who refuse to face the people they attack.
But the pro-life movement has been very careful in shifting the blame of abortion on to doctors and not those carrying pregnancies in an attempt to combat the idea that they are trying to attack pregnant people. The most recent attempt at limiting abortion, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” even states that “[t]he mother of a child born alive…may not be prosecuted” if this law goes into effect. However, as Rachel Maddow points out, placing blame on people who get abortions is still a consequence of the anti-abortion movement. Even if anti-abortion lawmakers say that they seek to punish the practicing doctors if abortion is outlawed, by making abortion illegal, the choice to have bodily autonomy in this instance is also made illegal no matter who is criminally charged. Bills like this may include clauses to protect the “mother,” but by taking away the right to choose at all, anti-choice legislators imply that people do not have the ability to choose for themselves. And if anti-abortion propaganda is this dangerous to people who choose abortion, imagine how dangerous anti-abortion legislation will be.
Donald Trump, “State of the Union Address,” 2019, CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/05/politics/donald-trump-state-of-the-union-2019-transcript/index.html
Senate Bill S2796, 2017-2018 Legislative Session, https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s2796
Dr. Anthony Levatino, Planned Parenthood Medical Procedures, 2015, vhttps://www.c-span.org/video/?c4748035/dr-anthony-levatino-abortion-procedure
“Top Pro & Con Arguments on Abortion,” 2018, ProCon, https://abortion.procon.org
“Top Pro & Con Arguments on Abortion”
Tara C. Jatloui et. al, “Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2015,” 2015, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6713a1.htm
Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport, “Who Seeks Abortions at or After 20 Weeks?” 2013, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1363/4521013
Foster and Kimport, “Who Seeks Abortions at or After 20 Weeks?”
Senate Bill 311, 2019-2020 Legislative Session, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/s311/text
Rachel Maddow, “Trump accidentally speaks the truth of anti-abortion politics,” 2016, MSNBC, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/trump-exposes-truth-of-anti-abortion-politics-656239171633