Amid concerns over the future of abortion rights, state lawmakers in New York and Virginia have debated legislation that would make it easier for women facing serious health risks or fetal complications to get an abortion in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.
At a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, President Donald Trump criticized those bills, making false claims about how they work.
Enacted in January, the New York law allows a woman to get an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy if her health or life is threatened or if the fetus would be unable to survive outside the womb. Under previous state law, a woman could only get an abortion after 24 weeks if her life was at risk.
Anti-abortion advocates have condemned the law as an “extreme” expansion of abortion rights. On Monday, Trump echoed critics who have falsely claimed that the bill would allow a woman going into labor to have an abortion.
“Democrats are also pushing extreme late-term abortion, allowing children to be ripped from their mother’s womb right up until the moment of birth,” Trump said in his speech Monday night.
But medical experts say that’s not accurate. Dr. Kristyn Brandi, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a board member from Physicians for Reproductive Health, told TIME last week that arguments about women getting abortions while in labor are a “gross mischaracterization” of abortion care.
“It’s not something that any person would come seeking, and it’s not something that any doctor would provide,” she said.
The proposed Virginia bill, which has been tabled, would have reduced existing restrictions on later abortions if a woman’s health is threatened.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist, defended the bill with a confusing explanation about how a doctor would handle a woman going into labor if her pregnancy involved “severe deformities” or a “fetus that’s nonviable.”
“The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired,” Northam told the radio station WTOP. “And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Critics have falsely claimed that Northam’s comments indicated support for infanticide, an argument he called “shameful and disgusting.”
At the El Paso rally, Trump echoed that language as well.
“The governor stated that he would even allow a newborn baby to come out into the world and wrap the baby and make the baby comfortable and then talk to the mother and talk to the father and then execute the baby,” Trump said.
Abortion rights advocates have defended the New York law as necessary for patients who previously had limited options for care if their pregnancies became complicated by health risks or serious fetal problems. Women who have had abortions later in pregnancy have also spoken out about their experience.
“While these cases are incredibly rare and specific to each patient’s unique circumstances, they are being broadly misrepresented and are playing an outsized role on the national stage,” dozens of patients said in an open letter published last week. “We are not monsters. We are your family, your neighbors, someone you love. We are you, just in different circumstances.”
In his State of the Union address last week, Trump called for a federal ban on “the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.” That standard has been used in some states to ban abortion around 20 weeks into pregnancy, but scientific research has found that “fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week.
Late-pregnancy abortions remain rare. Just 9% of abortions take place after the first trimester of pregnancy, and only 1% of abortions take place at 21 weeks or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that advocates for reproductive rights.
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