Myths and facts around this week’s manufactured abortion rights scandals

Right-wing media have manufactured a scandal about Democrats supporting bills that supposedly allow abortions up to moment of birth -- and beyond. Here are some of the anti-choice myths being pushed by right-wing media and the facts about laws protecting or expanding reproductive rights and access to abortion at the state level.

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Democrats are not pushing to allow abortions up to the “moment of birth”

MYTH: Democrats are advancing legislation at the state level that will allow abortions up to the “moment of birth” -- and beyond -- including a Virginia bill and the recently passed Reproductive Health Act in New York.

FACT: Abortion at “the moment of birth” is not a thing that happens, no matter how many times right-wing media repeat this false claim. As Forbes’ Tara Haelle explained in 2016, those who seek later abortions are “are seeking them before a pregnancy reaches full term but often and unfortunately after they have discovered in the second or third trimester some problem with the fetus or danger to the mother.” Later abortions, although often medically necessary, are extremely rare, with slightly more than 1 percent of procedures performed past the 21-week mark. In other words, later abortions are not conducted lightly or often and are almost certainly not occurring with the frivolity and carelessness that right-wing media’s coverage suggests.

“Partial-birth" abortion is a nonmedical term invented by anti-abortion activists

MYTH: Democrats are pushing for providers to engage in so-called “partial-birth" abortions.

FACT: Right-wing media frequently spread anti-choice misinformation and junk science, and have spent years misleading about abortion procedures -- focusing in particular on invented procedures like so-called “partial-birth” abortion, or invoking the inaccurate idea of “abortion on demand.” In reality, the false claims about both concepts are strategically deployed and endlessly repeated to spread misinformation about medically necessary later abortions. In particular, anti-choice advocates invented the phrase “partial-birth” abortion as a mechanism to vilify and shame individuals who have later abortions.

People have later abortions for complicated medical reasons

MYTH: People who have later abortions are “murderers.”

FACT: Far from depictions that right-wing media figures promote, later abortions are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons. The people that anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often have to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy because of a nonviable fetus or due to the great medical risk to the pregnant person. If anti-abortion media really wanted to understand the people who have had later abortions, they could read actual accounts rather than demonizing those individuals and feeding a larger right-wing media frenzy.

Abortion providers who perform later abortions are NOT Kermit Gosnell

MYTH: State laws supported by Democrats would allow abortion providers to engage in murder, just like the case of Philadelphia abortion provider Kermit Gosnell.

FACT: Gosnell is currently serving three life sentences for “first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive at his rogue clinic, then stabbed with scissors.” There is no ambiguity about the illegality of Gosnell’s actions. But contrary to allegations from right-wing and anti-abortion media, Gosnell’s practices are in no way representative of abortion providers or abortion procedures in the United States. As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon wrote in 2013, Gosnell’s “willingness to break the law” is not evidence of widespread malfeasance by abortion providers -- in fact, many patients went to Gosnell’s clinic “because they felt they had no alternative,” despite warnings from other reputable providers. Similarly, as Robin Marty explained in 2018, while there are a myriad distinctions between Gosnell and a “legitimate, trained abortion provider,” the restrictions imposed in the wake of his actions have very little to do with abortion safety.

Democrats are not “extreme” on abortion -- they want to protect abortion access, which has public support

MYTH: These bills prove that Democratic party has become “extreme” on abortion and out of touch with their base.

FACT: Right-wing media love to paint support for basic reproductive rights as “extreme,” and they often claim that support for abortion rights is harmful to the Democratic Party's electoral chances. Polling on abortion-related issues is notoriously complicated, requiring clear questions and language that accurately reflects the realities of abortion access and procedures. However, polling that takes these issues into account has demonstrated widespread support for abortion rights and Roe v. Wade. In fact, as Mother Jones’ Rosa Furneaux explained, the current push to protect and expand abortion rights is largely due to the “threat of a more conservative Supreme Court” with Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the bench to overturn Roe.