President Trump again used inaccurate and incendiary rhetoric about later abortion care in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, calling on the U.S. Congress to ban later abortion.
The president introduced his call to outlaw later abortions with the story of a premature baby in Kansas City who survived thanks to neonatal health care. Conflating later abortion care with premature birth, he lauded medical advances that help premature babies survive.
Trump, along with congressional and state-level Republicans, have long held up later abortion care as equivalent to infanticide—an anti-choice myth criticized by doctors and reproductive rights advocates. Before both chambers of Congress on Tuesday, Trump said lawmakers should “pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies.”
Advocates of reproductive health care said the president’s remarks advanced blatant falsehoods about abortion later in pregnancy. Only around 1.2 percent of abortions in the United States occur at 21 weeks’ gestation or later, according to federal data.
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“As an OB/GYN who provides full-spectrum care including abortion and prenatal care, I am angry about the gross mis-characterization that the president perpetuated about abortion care tonight,” Dr. Kristyn Brandi, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement.
Just before calling on members of Congress to ban later abortion, the president said lawmakers should boost funding for neonatal research by $50 million. Dr. Brandi said she was “excited to hear that there would be increased funding to help the outcomes of premature births.”
“However, it is frustrating to hear the president pit funding for premature babies against abortion care, when in reality patients need all of these options, because each patient’s needs and well being are unique,” she said. “I am concerned the president keeps using inflammatory and inaccurate terminology around abortion. People that end their pregnancy, regardless of when, deserve the same compassionate care as people who deliver premature babies. I am proud to provide care to all pregnant people, and politics should not stand in the way of that.”
Erin Matson, co-founder and co-director of the abortion rights group Reproaction, said in a tweet that giving “premature babies the care they need has NOTHING to do with abortion.”
Demonizing later abortion care has been a staple of the anti-choice movement, used to paint pro-choice legislation as legalizing infanticide. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in March 2019 that Democratic lawmakers have a “radical agenda” that includes “killing babies after they’re born.” In last year’s State of the Union address, the president railed against pro-choice legislation in New York that legalized abortion after 24 weeks in cases of life and health endangerment or if the fetus isn’t viable.
Senate and House Republicans introduced the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” last year, a bill based on the false narrative that abortion often occurs just before or at the time of birth. In February 2019, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) called the legislation “anti-doctor, anti-woman, and anti-family.”
Murray said the bill’s “proponents claim it would make something illegal that is already illegal.” The anti-choice legislation, she said, constituted an “effort to intimidate doctors with the threat of criminal liability for performing safe and legal abortion, which will have a chilling effect on the ability of women to access the services they need in the United States.”
State attorneys general from across the United States told congressional lawmakers in 2013 that they couldn’t find any instances in which physicians committed infanticide after an abortion.
Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York Action Fund, said in a statement that Trump’s “attack on abortion later in pregnancy is nothing but a cynical ploy to distract us from his true agenda—completely overturning Roe v. Wade and ending access to safe, legal abortion. The state of our union in 2020 is clear: Our freedoms are on the line like never before.”
Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said on Twitter that Trump’s State of the Union abortion remarks sent a clear message in the run-up to the 2020 election. “This president wants to ban abortion and control our bodies. Plain and simple,” McGill-Johnson tweeted.