In less than two minutes during a Fox News interview, Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to President Donald Trump, peddled three of right-wing media’s favorite anti-abortion myths.
Appearing on the January 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Conway responded to a question about the reason she participates in the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion protest, by arguing that “partial-birth” and “sex-selective” abortions are common in the United States -- despite significant scientific and medical evidence to the contrary. She also wrongly claimed that taxpayers foot the bill for abortion care and that fetuses can feel pain when aborted at 20 weeks:
1. So-Called “Partial-Birth” And “Sex-Selective” Abortions Are Anti-Choice Myths, Based On Junk Science
Conway cited “partial-birth abortions" and “sex-selection abortions” as reasons she's participating in the March for Life, claiming she could "basically go get a pregnancy test and then go get a sex test and schedule my abortion.”
Fact: So-called “partial-birth” and “sex-selection” abortions are anti-choice myths, based entirely on junk science.
Right-wing media, anti-choice politicians, and Conway herself have often repeated the allegation that both “partial-birth” and “sex-selection” (usually termed “sex-selective”) abortions are a common occurrence. In reality, neither term is medically accurate nor do they describe actual abortion procedures performed in the United States.
“Partial-birth” abortion is a nonmedical and fabricated term coined by anti-choice groups to vilify and stigmatize individuals who elect to have a later-term abortion. Despite right-wing media’s insistence that “partial-birth” abortions are common, 99 percent of abortions in the United States take place before the 20th week of pregnancy. The Supreme Court explicitly protected the right to an abortion beyond this point when the life or health of the mother is endangered -- meaning late-term procedures are often performed only in instances of medical need. As Rolling Stone reported, late-term procedures occur “when something has gone terribly wrong” and they often represent the “loss of a wanted pregnancy.”
Conway’s allegations about so-called “sex-selective” abortions are similarly unfounded. Since 2012, anti-choice lawmakers have attempted to legislate against the practice of “sex-selective” abortion. In an October 2016 release, the Guttmacher Institute noted that “sex-selective” abortion restrictions are specifically designed to “make abortion less accessible.” Furthermore, a 2014 report by the University of Chicago Law School, the National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) found that “sex-selective” abortion bans have no evidentiary basis. They wrote:
The key empirical support for sex-selective abortion bans in the United States comes from a study of census data that is now almost 15 years old. The study by Almond and Edlund found male-biased sex ratios at birth for the second and third children of foreign-born Chinese, Indians and Koreans when they had already given birth to one or two girls. Our study of more recent data from the American Community Survey from 2007 to 2011 reveals that the sex ratios at birth of foreign-born Chinese, Indians and Koreans, as well as all Asian Americans, in the United States are lower than the sex ratios of white Americans, when all births are taken into account. This means that Asian Americans have more girls than white Americans. The National Asian American Survey, a poll conducted among Asian Americans, further reveals that Asian Americans do not have a preference for sons over daughters.
2. “Taxpayer-Funded” Abortion Is A Right-Wing Media Myth
Conway listed “taxpayer-funded abortion” as one of the reasons she’s participating in the March for Life.
Fact: The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal abortion funding -- with negative consequences for abortion access.
Conway and right-wing media have insisted that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers use taxpayer money to fund abortion services -- despite a longstanding prohibition on the use of federal funds for this purpose.
The Hyde Amendment is a budgetary rider that has barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover abortion care, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life. Significantly, days before the March for Life, the House of Representatives voted to codify and dangerously expand the Hyde Amendment.
A 2016 report from the Guttmacher Institute detailed the devastating impact of the Hyde Amendment on low-income and marginalized communities. The report found that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services.
3. Fetal Pain Is A Scientifically Flawed Premise And Does Not Justify Bans On Abortion After 20 Weeks
Conway listed “fetal pain abortion, where nonpartisan and nonpolitical scientists and physicians have said an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks, basically the halfway point,” as a reason she’s participating in the March for Life.
Fact: Fetal pain is a scientifically flawed premise and does not justify bans on abortion after 20 weeks.
Conway’s allegations about fetal pain are based on the flawed premise that a fetus is able to feel pain starting around 20 weeks post-fertilization. Assertions about fetal pain have animated right-wing media discussions of abortion and supplied talking points for anti-choice politicians to push for increasingly restrictive and medically unnecessary laws targeting abortion access after 20 weeks.
Despite Conway’s claim that “nonpolitical scientists and physicians have said that an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks,” there is a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary. The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen wrote that there is little science supporting 20-week bans, and the few examples that anti-choice lawmakers point to are highly contested in the medical community. As Allen explained, two of the three researchers whose work is commonly cited to support fetal pain bills “have already publicly disagreed with the way in which their findings have been used by anti-abortion advocates”:
In 2013, Dr. Merker told The New York Times that his frequently-cited research “did not deal with pain specifically.” Even Dr. Anand, who believes that fetal pain could start earlier than the literature suggests, told the Times that he used to testify in court cases on abortion bans but that he stopped because “it’s just gotten completely out of hand.”
In an interview with Salon, Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Anne Davis said warnings about fetal pain are “created concerns” that are “based in politics,” not science. According to Davis, a fetus’s brain is not sufficiently developed to perceive pain until 24 weeks gestation.
A transcript of Conway’s comments on abortion is below:
AINSLEY EARHARDT: I know you have had a very busy week, Kellyanne. Today is no different. You’re going to be marching for the March for Life today in Washington along with the vice president. Why are you doing this?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: I believe in the sanctity of life. I think that if we can promote and protect life from conception to natural death it says an awful lot about our country. It's no mistake that in our own Declaration of Independence life was the very first right that is mentioned. And it was precious then. It remains precious now. We have to stop this culture that just looks the other way. Partial-birth abortions, sex-selection abortions -- I can basically go get a pregnancy test and then go get a sex test and schedule my abortion. That's not America’s foundation. Taxpayer-funded abortion. Of course fetal pain abortion, where nonpartisan and nonpolitical scientists and physicians have said an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks, basically the halfway point.
And we just have to look at this as a culture of life. Many presidents and vice presidents have said they were pro-life. They were. But to have Vice President Mike Pence go out on that mall today in just a few short hours and address those who are coming around from the country and indeed the world to bond together to protect the culture of life is truly remarkable and historic. I think it's a big day for Vice President Pence. [Fox News Channel, Fox & Friends, 1/27/17]