Why politicians should stop lying about abortion

In the 46 years since the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that there is a national right for women to choose abortion and, despite stable public support for abortion in all or most cases, the issue has not faded away.

Today some politicians who oppose legal abortion promulgate stark falsities about the procedure, spreading misinformation that revs up some voters and puts providers at risk.

To be sure, sincere differences about the issue are to be expected. Some see all abortions as murder, no matter how far into a pregnancy. Others believe, as President Dwight Eisenhower appointee Justice Potter Stewart argued in Roe v. Wade, that women’s lives and freedoms are greatly affected by whether they give birth to a child, and thus states should not restrict the right to choose abortion. And, of course, there are other points of view.

However, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Oklahoma state Senator Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow,, addresses an abortion opponents rally Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. Silk is the sponsor of a bill that would make abortion in Oklahoma a felony crime. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Recent claims of infanticide and “executing babies” are false and inflammatory. They paint a picture of women blithely deciding very late into a pregnancy they just don’t want to have a child and a doctor then performing an abortion — something that just doesn’t happen.

Nearly all abortions happen early in a pregnancy — 91 percent before 13 weeks, 7.6 percent after 13 weeks and up to 20 weeks, and 1.3 percent at or above 21 weeks, according to federal data. As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes, “Abortion later in the second trimester is very rare, and abortion in the third trimester is rarer still.”

Anyone who wants to ensure that nearly all abortions occur early on should support greater availability of birth control and abortion clinics. They should reject the sort of law Justice Brett Kavanaugh recently voted to uphold and the Trump administration’s gag rule, which will limit access to abortion.

Moreover, the over-the-top language from some abortion foes about the very unusual cases of third-trimester abortion ignores and disrespects the tragic realities some parents face.

Let me tell you the story of a school friend. When she and her husband decided to have a baby, it took some time to get pregnant. In fact, it took so long they thought they might never have a child. They were incredibly happy when she got pregnant.

But then they discovered that the fetus had a terrible congenital defect — no brain, just a brain stem.

This condition, anencephaly, is rare, but not incredibly rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it affects three in every 10,000 pregnancies in the United States. As the Cleveland Clinic explains, “Anencephaly is a fatal condition. Infants with anencephaly are stillborn in about 75 percent of cases. Newborns who survive die within several hours, days, or weeks.”

So what did this couple do when they learned that diagnosis? Instead of continuing a draining pregnancy with a fetus that had zero chance of living more than a short while, they chose abortion. Later, they were lucky to have a healthy pregnancy and a beautiful child.

Those against third-trimester abortions would have told my friend and her husband that she had to go through a full pregnancy and delivery.

The most recent bill regarding so-called abortion survivors was both inflammatory and unnecessary because killing infants is illegal. It also could have forced some facing tragic situations like anencephaly to insert tubes and use other neonatal interventions to keep a fetus alive instead of letting the parents wrap and cuddle their baby who had no possibility of survival.

We should listen to obstetricians and gynecologists, who point out that “Abortion later in pregnancy may also be necessary when complications severely compromise a woman’s health or life, conditions which may also reduce the possibility of fetal survival.”

As these women’s health experts contend, politicians should not tell doctors how to practice medicine, for “the best health care is provided free from political interference in the patient-physician relationship.”

Americans will undoubtedly always disagree about abortion, but our debates should be done in good faith, using the best medical knowledge and rejecting harsh, false rhetoric.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.