In an exclusive interview with the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump repeated his false allegations about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s support for so-called “partial-birth” abortion -- a right-wing media myth Trump previously invoked during the final presidential debate.
During the October 19 debate, Trump asserted that Clinton supports abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month [of pregnancy]” in response to moderator Chris Wallace’s question about so-called “partial-birth abortions.” His comments reflect a longstanding right-wing media myth about late-term abortions and the phrase “partial-birth abortion,” which was invented by anti-choice groups as a mechanism to vilify and shame individuals who have abortions later in pregnancy.
Trump repeated these allegations during his October 24 interview with Robertson, claiming that “according to the rules of Hillary, you can take the baby at nine months” or even “a day prior to birth.” Robertson not only endorsed Trump’s false description, but he also went further, describing the late-term abortion procedure as a process where “the baby is about two-thirds already born in the birth canal. The doctor turns it around to get its head, punches the back of its skull, and evacuates the brain”:
PAT ROBERTSON (HOST): Something else that Hillary did. She took the radical feminist view in relation to abortion and she didn't back off one iota in that debate, not one. And you called her on partial-birth abortion and she said it's not as bad as you said. But the truth is it's worse than what she said --
DONALD TRUMP: -- Probably worse. It’s probably worse. According to her it wasn't bad at all. I mean, it wasn’t even like a little bit bad.
ROBERTSON: The actual partial birth is the baby is about two-thirds already born in the birth canal. The doctor turns it around to get its head, punches the back of its skull, and evacuates the brain. It is the most barbaric thing. And to defend that and say that's a woman's right?
TRUMP: And I said it very strongly. A lot of people, I must say I have been called by a lot of pastors, I’ve been called by priests, thanking me because they have never heard anyone explain it quite the way I explained it. And, you know, I'm very happy about that. I'm happy we can get the word out because it's terrible.
ROBERTSON: She defended that barbaric practice of partial birth and then she defended Planned Parenthood -- a $500 million-plus federal dollars. It's terrible.
TRUMP: Well, according to the rules of Hillary, you can take the baby at nine months and you can imagine what you have to do to that baby to get it out. And you can take that baby at nine months and you can abort. And a day prior to birth you can take the baby. And I said it's unacceptable.
ROBERTSON: That's infanticide.
Neither Robertson’s nor Trump’s assertions are accurate -- legally, medically, or in terms of Clinton’s position. As numerous media outlets noted, Trump’s debate comments about late-term abortion bore little resemblance to reality. Talking Points Memo called his description “a grossly inaccurate view of abortion in the United States,” while Rolling Stone concluded that “nowhere in [the third debate] was his ignorance on brighter, flashier display than on the subject of late-term abortion.”
Statements about later-term abortions from both Trump and right-wing media overestimate the frequency of these procedures, include inaccurate information about what is involved, and undervalue the agency and lived realities of those making the often medically necessary decision to abort a wanted pregnancy at this stage.
Approximately 99 percent of abortions in the United States take place before the 21st week of pregnancy, but the Supreme Court has explicitly protected the right to have an abortion up to the point of fetal viability -- which most states set at 24 weeks. It also determined that any restrictions imposed after viability must include exemptions to protect the life or health of the mother. As Vox’s Emily Crockett explained, women can obtain a post-viability abortion only when “there is something seriously wrong with either the fetus or her own health.”
Not only is “partial-birth” abortion a right-wing media creation, but the allegation that Clinton supports such a practice is also inaccurate. On October 9, PolitiFact Texas rated as false a statement by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that Clinton “supports unlimited abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, including partial-birth abortion.” PolitiFact noted that “abortions in the weeks leading up to birth” are an extreme rarity and that “Clinton has long said that she’d support a late-term limit on abortion--provided it has exceptions” -- a position she reiterated during the October 19 debate.
As Huffington Post contributor Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OB-GYN, wrote, Trump’s recycled assertions about “partial-birth” abortion “couldn’t be further from the truth.” She continued that despite her insistence as a medical professional that “partial-birth abortions are an inexact term rejected by the American Congress of OB/GYN,” anti-choice groups and politicians have continued using the term to restrict access to necessary reproductive health care. Gunter concluded (emphasis original):
The myth of “ninth month” abortions and partial birth abortions accomplish two goals: firing up the base for fundraising and getting more people to believe that at least some abortion restrictions are needed. Getting 100 percent of people to align with you on one small part of the procedure makes it easier to gradually push the bar. It is the thin edge of the wedge.
The anti-choice movement needs the idea of partial birth abortions of a healthy fetus in the “ninth month” just like they need the devil. However, if you pull back the curtain on their sideshow, all you see are women in medically desperate situations in need of high quality medical care.