Fox News spent the better part of last week lying about abortion, so it was only a matter of time before those talking points found their way into President Donald Trump’s hands. Now, during his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump gave that right-wing misinformation about abortion an even bigger platform -- and media have a responsibility to correct these lies.
Right-wing media have manufactured a scandal about Democrats supporting bills that supposedly allow “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In reality, state lawmakers in New York and Virginia (and to a lesser extent Rhode Island) raised right-wing and anti-abortion media ire by advocating laws that either remove unnecessary restrictions on abortion access or codify abortion protections in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. With the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that threat looks increasingly credible by the day.
It’s no secret that Trump takes his cues from Fox News for everything from talking points to policy proposals and personnel. The Trump administration has enjoyed a similarly close relationship with anti-abortion groups and leaders. Thus it doesn’t take much work to identify both the source of, and audience for, the anti-abortion misinformation in Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.
Trump’s reference to New York’s and Virginia’s abortion measures was steeped in right-wing misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric. In addition, Trump repeated his inaccurate allegation that such measures “would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth.” Although many outlets will be fact-checking the State of the Union address, fact-checkers are not always equipped to handle anti-abortion misinformation -- whether it comes from anti-choice groups or the president of the United States. Rather than uncritically repeat the misinformation Trump recycled from Fox News, media and fact-checkers should use this information to set the record straight:
FACT: Pro-choice politicians aren’t advocating for “infanticide” or abortion at “the moment of birth.”
Prior to the State of the Union, Trump tweeted about so-called “‘super’ late term abortion.” This phrase is intentionally sensationalized and does not reflect any medical reality, much like right-wing media’s claims that pro-choice politicians are promoting “infanticide” or abortion “at the moment of birth.” The truth is pro-choice politicians want to remove medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion care and codify state protections because of the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.
FACT: Bans on abortion at 20 weeks, based on right-wing misinformation about fetal pain, are scientifically inaccurate and harmful.
During his State of the Union address, Trump demanded legislation that would “prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.” Right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have repeatedly pushed for such a ban at 20 weeks. Despite claims by anti-abortion lawmakers and media, abortion restrictions based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks into a pregnancy are not supported by science. According to testimony from people who have had abortions after 20 weeks, these measures, such as the oft-introduced “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” often do more harm than good.
FACT: There’s no such thing as “late-term” abortions (a term used by anti-choice activists). People have abortions later in pregnancy for a variety of complex and urgent reasons.
“Late-term abortion” is a medically inaccurate and intentionally vague phrase used by anti-choice activists to mislead about a variety of medical procedures, and it is not used by high-risk obstetricians. These bills refer to abortions that happen after 20 weeks, which can occur for many reasons, including serious threats to a person’s health (such as high blood pressure or bleeding), diagnosis of grave fetal conditions, and barriers to abortion access put in place by anti-abortion politicians that unnecessarily delay the procedure. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare; just over 1 percent of abortion procedures are provided after 21 weeks.
People who have abortions -- including abortions later in pregnancy -- are making a personal health care decision that's between them, a doctor, and their families. The accounts of people who decided to have an abortion later in pregnancy show the complexity and necessity of being able to access the full range of treatment options to get the best care, including abortion. In addition, people seeking later abortions are often ending wanted pregnancies. Instead of uncritically repeating right-wing media misinformation and attacks on these individuals, media should recognize that pregnant people need access to timely, high-quality care -- and obstacles to access can jeopardize their health.