In the 2016 election cycle, right-wing media have spread misinformation about the Democratic position on abortion access by alleging that the party supports so-called “partial-birth” abortions, often invoking the term as a description of an abortion that takes place in the final months or “moments” of pregnancy. In reality, “partial-birth” abortion is a term coined by anti-choice groups to vilify and stigmatize individuals who elect to have an abortion. Here is what the media should know about this common anti-choice myth and why media figures should not deploy it.
“Partial-Birth” Abortion And “Abortion Until The Moment Of Birth” Are Debunked Right-Wing Media Myths
NPR: “‘Partial-Birth’ Is Not A Medical Term,” And The Concept Was Invented By Anti-Choice Groups To “Foster A Growing Opposition To Abortion.” After the Supreme Court decided to hear a case about the constitutionality of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2006, NPR’s Julie Rovner explained that “‘partial-birth’ is not a medical term” but is instead “a political one.” As explained by Rovner, “partial-birth” abortion is a misleading reference to the previously used later-term abortion procedure known as a “‘dilation and extraction,’ or D&X.” Rovner continued that the term “was first coined” in 1995 “by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC),” an anti-choice group that admitted in a magazine interview that it created the term to “foster a growing opposition to abortion.” [NPR, 2/21/06]
Rolling Stone: So-Called “‘Partial Birth’ [Abortion] Isn’t Actually A Thing” And Was “Made Up … To Make Abortion Seem Gruesome.” Rolling Stone reported on October 5 that Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s allegation that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton supports so-called “partial-birth” abortion is inaccurate because “‘partial birth’ [abortion] isn’t really a thing.” As explained by Rolling Stone, “partial birth” is “a term made up by [anti-choice] activists to make abortion seem gruesome.” By deploying the term to describe any late-term abortion -- a procedure often performed “when something has gone terribly wrong,” anti-choice groups “vilify women” who are often facing the “loss of a wanted pregnancy.” In some cases, Rolling Stone noted, women seeking an “abortion in later term” are often put in that position due to the number of economic and logistical barriers to earlier abortion access by anti-choice politicians. As Rolling Stone concluded: “States are free to ban abortion after viability, which occurs at about 24 weeks' gestation – and they do. That's been the law for over 40 years, and that's what Hillary Clinton supports.” From Rolling Stone:
But “partial birth abortion” isn't actually a thing – it's a term made up by activists to make abortion seem gruesome. It's used to focus attention on later abortions, which make many supporters of legal abortion queasy, and to vilify women who have them.
Which is cruel. Women have later abortions when something has gone terribly wrong – often the loss of a wanted pregnancy. But anti-abortion advocates have successfully used their tragedies to garner support for anti-abortion policies.
Studies show women with unwanted pregnancies prefer to end them as early as possible, and the vast majority of abortions in this country are performed in the first trimester. Second-trimester abortions aren't even available in much of the country – it can be an ordeal to find a physician to abort even a doomed pregnancy.
Women who don't want to be pregnant, who abort in later term, tend to be young and poor. As Dr. David Grimes has explained, they get delayed by things like not realizing they're pregnant, or having to raise money to pay for the procedure and related travel expenses.
States are free to ban abortion after viability, which occurs at about 24 weeks' gestation – and they do. That's been the law for over 40 years, and that's what Hillary Clinton supports. [Rolling Stone, 10/5/16]
PolitiFact Texas: Clinton “Hasn’t Pitched For Unlimited Abortion On Demand” And Statements Otherwise Are “False.” 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.” In the October 9 article, PolitiFact noted that not only are “abortions in the weeks leading up to birth” a rarity, but also that “Clinton has long said that she’d support a late-term limit on abortion--provided it has exceptions.” As Priscilla Smith -- a professor of law at Yale University -- explained to PolitiFact Texas, the term “abortion-on-demand” ignores the reality that women typically don’t end a later-stage pregnancy “unless there is something really wrong.” It also misses the fact that physicians face “significant potential penalties” if they performed a later-stage abortion “to protect the woman’s health” and it “was later found inappropriate.” After evaluating the full context of late-term abortion in the United States and Clinton’s record, PolitiFact Texas concluded that Clinton “hasn't pitched for unlimited abortion on demand” and that claims otherwise are “False.” From PolitiFact Texas:
Ted Cruz of Texas stirred an Austin crowd by declaring that Hillary Clinton favors abortion without limit.
Cruz stressed his concerns about entrusting Clinton with nominating Supreme Court justices who would, he said, threaten his daughters’ constitutional rights.
When he paused, the audience member voiced another question: “Like the right to choose?”
Cruz replied that the “right to life” needs to be protected, adding: “I can also tell you even on the question of the right to life that the views of Hillary Clinton on abortion are radical and extreme. Her views: She supports unlimited abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, including partial-birth abortion, with taxpayer funding.”
Lawrence Sager, a constitutional expert at the University of Texas School of Law, and Priscilla Smith, a Yale law professor who’s advocated for reproductive rights, each said the mandate that a physician determine if an abortion is needed to protect a woman’s health hasn’t played out lightly.
By email, Smith said a physician could lose her or his license to practice or face criminal charges if the judgment that an abortion was needed to protect the woman’s health was later found inappropriate.
“Physicians do not take these significant potential penalties lightly,” Smith wrote, which she said partly explains the rarity of late-term abortions. “The other reason is that women don't just wake up one day after carrying a pregnancy for six months or more and decide to end it unless there is something really wrong with them,” Smith said.
Cruz said Clinton “supports unlimited abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, including partial-birth abortion, with taxpayer funding.”
However, she’s said since 2000 that she’d support a legislated late-term limit on abortion if it included an exception to protect the health of the woman--which the law against partial-birth abortions does not. She hasn't pitched for unlimited abortion on demand.
We rate this statement False. [PolitiFact Texas, 10/9/16]
Wash. Post: Clinton’s Opponents “Can’t Falsely Assert That Clinton Favors Aborting A Full-Term Baby.” In an April 1 article, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler disputed a claim by former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina that Clinton “literally” supported abortion “any time up until the moment” of birth. The Post gave Fiorina’s claim “a rating of four Pinocchios” and noted that “most abortions take place early in the pregnancy” and that the statement cited by Fiorina as evidence of Clinton’s stance was clearly “taken out of context.” Kessler concluded that “Clinton is on record as accepting that there can be restrictions to abortion well before the imminent birth of the baby” and that opponents “can’t falsely assert that Clinton favors aborting a full-term baby.” From The Washington Post:
First of all, most abortions take place early in the pregnancy. One-third take place at six weeks or (sic) pregnancy or earlier; 89 percent occur in the first 12 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Only 1.2 percent of abortions—about 12,000 a year– take place after 21 weeks. (The Supreme Court has held that states may not prohibit abortions “necessary to preserve the life or health” of the mother.)
On top of that, Guttmacher says that 43 states already prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy, such as fetal viability, in the third trimester or after a certain number of weeks. So this is already a rare procedure that is prohibited in much of the country.
When Clinton was running for the Senate in 2000, a debate moderator actually noted that in some states a woman can “choose to abort a child either six months into the pregnancy or perhaps almost up to birth.” The moderator asked whether the candidates supported a government saying there are circumstance under which an abortion is not permitted.
Clinton answered: “I have said many times that I can support a ban on late-term abortions, including partial-birth abortions, so long as the health and life of the mother is protected. I’ve met women who faced this heart-wrenching decision toward the end of a pregnancy. Of course it’s a horrible procedure. No one would argue with that. But if your life is at stake, if your health is at stake, if the potential for having any more children is at stake, this must be a woman’s choice.”
We readily concede that some abortion opponents believe the “health” exception for abortion is a huge loophole that allows a woman to get an abortion very late in her pregnancy. But the fact remains that Clinton is on record as accepting that there can be restrictions to abortion well before the imminent birth of the baby.
Fiorina can criticize Clinton for her abortion stance but she can’t falsely assert that Clinton favors aborting a full-term baby. [The Washington Post, 4/1/16]
The Daily Beast: Mike Pence Used Debate Platform To “Falsely Claim Clinton Supports Partial-Birth Abortion.” According to The Daily Beast, Pence used the vice presidential debate on October 4 as an opportunity “to bring up his long record of being anti-abortion and to falsely claim Clinton supports partial-birth abortion.” The Daily Beast noted that former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio attempted to make a similar smear against Clinton during the Republican primaries, and it “wasn’t any truer when Pence said it Tuesday night.” The Daily Beast also noted, “In fact, so-called partial-birth abortions were outlawed in the United States in 2003” as a result of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which prohibited the use of the D&X abortion procedure. The Daily Beast also reported that at no point during the 2016 election “has Clinton advocated for reviving such a practice.” From The Daily Beast:
If the claim that Clinton is in favor of aborting full-term babies sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Rubio made an identical claim—rated as “False” by PolitiFact—during the Feb. 6 Republican primary debate, and Carly Fiorina repeated it during the GOP primary debate on March 30.
It wasn’t any truer when Pence said it Tuesday night. In fact, so-called partial-birth abortions were outlawed in the United States in 2003. That law was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 2007, the court ruled in Gonzalez v. Carhart that the law should stand.
In no speech at any point on the 2016 campaign trail has Clinton advocated for reviving such a practice. In an address she delivered in 2005, Clinton stated she didn’t believe the government should interfere at all in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but she made those statements in the context of pointing out the way China and Romania had historically treated pregnant women, not in U.S. law, and not in the context of demanding the widespread acceptance of late-term abortions.
While it isn’t clear where Pence is getting the notion that Clinton supports partial-birth abortions (it could be any number of failed Republican candidates for president), his statements in the debate make clear that he, or whoever came up with this particular set of misleading talking points, wishes for the viewer to conflate late-term abortion with a procedure that more than half a million women undergo each year. [The Daily Beast, 10/5/16]
During The 2016 Election, Fox News Has Frequently Falsely Alleged That Clinton Supports “Partial-Birth” Abortion
Fox News’ Robert Jeffress Alleged Multiple Times That Clinton “Supports The Dismembering Of Babies Through Partial-Birth Abortions.” After The Washington Post uncovered 2005 footage of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump describing alleged sexual assault, Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress, a pastor, appeared on the October 8 edition of America’s Election Headquarters to defend the comments. According to Jeffress, Trump’s comments were “not enough to make [Jeffress] vote for Hillary Clinton,” who he alleged did not have the “high moral ground” because “she supports the dismembering of babies through partial-birth abortions.” On October 10, Jeffress appeared on Fox Business’ Varney & Company and repeated his allegation that Clinton was “for the horrific practice of partial-birth abortion.” From Fox’s America’s Election Headquarters:
JEFFRESS: Well, let me agree with you. I do think character is a very important issue when it comes to leadership. But when people suggest that Trump is now disqualified because of his character, they're assuming that Hillary Clinton has a better character. And yet here's a woman who destroyed 33,000 e-mails. She attacked those victims of her husband's sexual assaults, and she supports the dismembering of babies through partial-birth abortions. That's hardly the high moral ground. [Fox News Channel, America’s Election Headquarters, 10/8/16; Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 10/10/16]
Fox’s Mike Huckabee: “If [Clinton] Is President, Abortion Gets Even Easier, Even Partial-Birth Abortion.” Following the second presidential debate on October 9, Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee told Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs that Trump’s comments did not disqualify him from being president. According to Huckabee, “If [Clinton] is president, abortion gets even easier, even partial-birth abortion.” From Fox Business Network's’ Lou Dobbs Tonight:
MIKE HUCKABEE: What Hillary Clinton did, I think the significance of it, and I don't want to dismiss anything about Trump because we're all just squeamish about what he said and did, we get that, but here's the difference. Nobody died because he said some really disgusting things. Nobody lost a job over it. But with Hillary Clinton, four people are dead in Benghazi. If she is president, abortion gets even easier, even partial-birth abortion funded by taxpayers. We have a national security problem. We have a situation where she, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the elitists of Wall Street, will do more damage to main street than already has been done. And just isn't much more than can be suffered there. [Fox Business Network, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 10/9/16]
Fox’s Tucker Carlson: Clinton’s Support For “Partial-Birth Abortion” Falls “Way Out Of The Mainstream” Of Public Opinion. After the vice presidential debate, during the October 5 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson argued that Clinton’s supposed support for “partial-birth abortion” is publicly unpopular. Carlson claimed that “a lot of polling” proved that “the Hillary position” falls “way outside of the mainstream.” Co-host Steve Doocy agreed with Carlson that Pence’s false framing of Clinton’s position was “very accurate,” including the description of supporting abortion of “an almost-born baby.” From Fox & Friends:
TUCKER CARLSON: The remarkable moment, for me, was the abortion moment, because, keep in mind, Pence was not asked about abortion. He was asked more broadly about his religious faith, and he brought it up. Republicans do not do this, they're afraid of the topic, they think it hurts them, but they're wrong on this one specific point: partial-birth abortion. The country is split on abortion. It is not split on late-term or third-trimester abortion. We have a lot of polling on this, we know what the mainstream is, and we know less than 30 percent of the country supports legal third-term abortion, elective abortion during a third term. And the Kaine position, the Hillary position, the Democratic platform position is way out of the mainstream. And so Pence, by saying this, wins.
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Sure, and the way he framed it was very sober and very accurate, where he's talking about an almost-born baby. That's what you're talking about, right there.
CARLSON: Exactly. And I have to say, Kaine's position on this is ludicrous. So, his position is, “I'm pro-life personally, I think abortion is immoral, but I'm for unlimited access to abortion, taxpayer-funded abortion.” If I think that guns are immoral, do I get a hundred percent rating from the NRA, do they endorse me? No. And yet he's been endorsed by the abortion lobby, NARAL. So come on, it's stupid. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/5/16]
On Fox, Trump’s Campaign Manager Alleged The Vice Presidential Debate Showed “The Extremism Of The Democratic Party On Abortion.” During the October 5 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway discussed Pence’s attack on Clinton’s stance on abortion during the vice presidential debate, including his allegation that Clinton supported “partial birth abortion,” which was played in a clip on the show. She called it “an incredible moment to show the extremism of the Democratic Party.” Conway promoted a number of myths about abortion -- including the medically disputed allegation that fetal pain exists early enough to justify a 20-week abortion ban -- but in particular she emphasized that “the Democratic Party platform on abortion is basically anytime, anyone, anywhere” while mentioning “late-term abortion” and citing hypothetical abortions in the “seventh, eighth, and ninth month” of pregnancy. Fox co-host Brian Kilmeade did not challenge Conway’s false assertions about abortion and instead asked her if “there’s a right way to message” on those claims. From Fox & Friends:
AINSLEY EARHARDT (HOST): Kellyanne, as a woman, why isn't the mainstream talking about how Tim Kaine flip-flopped on this controversial issue?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: Oh because abortion is like a religion to many of them -- and their adherents -- Ainsley, last night was a moment I’ve been waiting for literally for decades. I’ve been working on messaging in the pro-life movement for decades. And finally we have somebody running for president or vice president who articulated it perfectly. Go read the Democratic Party platform on abortion: It is basically abortion anytime, anyone, anywhere. It is not the safe, legal, and rare stance of President Bill Clinton. There’s no exceptions for sex-selection -- you can basically find out the sex of your baby and decide for that reason only you’d like to terminate your pregnancy.
Donald Trump has said if he’s president he will sign into law the Pain Capable bill, which basically is non-partisan scientists and doctors saying that at about 20 weeks a fetus can feel pain, so you should not have an abortion after that. Abortion -- late-term abortion -- they were talking about the Hyde amendment. The Hyde amendment basically means no taxpayer funding for abortion. I don’t pay for your abortion, you don’t pay for my Viagra -- not to get so personal. But, it sounds like a pretty good deal, it sounds like fair to the taxpayer. But I thought this was an incredible moment to show the extremism of the Democratic Party on abortion. This is probably the only place you’ll hear it today.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): So Kellyanne, just to build on this for a second. You say there’s a right way to message it. But do you also say, no matter what your beliefs are, if you got out and say “I’m going to overturn Roe v. Wade,” that that’ll be also something that will hurt any candidate
CONWAY: Well, that’s why Tim Kaine was trying to go there and pretend that Donald Trump and Mike Pence are against women. This is a very stale talking point on their side and the fact is that people believe that the states should decide their health care policy and many other policies, frankly. And this is no exception. I mean, what Roe v. Wade does -- did -- was it made it federal policy. It made federal policy many years ago. I think that when you chip away, you look at very few Americans in this county, those who call themselves pro-choice included, they say: “I’m pro-choice, but I’m not pro that -- what do you mean seventh, eighth, and ninth month? No.” I mean, if this happened --
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): So that’s the point?
CONWAY: That’s the point, is how extreme. Because they love to say -- to Ainsley’s point about quote “women’s issues.” They talk about women’s issues and it’s really euphemism for abortion. They’ll talk about women’s health and they really mean abortion. So forcing them to even say that word -- I think, we at the Trump/Pence campaign thinks all issues are women’s issues. I've been doing this for 28 years. I've never a single time heard the phrase men's issues. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/5/16]
Fox’s Bill O’Reilly: Democrats Running For President Want “Abortion At Any Time, For Any Reason” Including If “The Kid Is Going To Be Born Next Week.” During the Democratic primary, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly complained that both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) want abortion to be legal “at any time, for any reason.” During the April 15 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly argued that this position meant that Democrats would support abortion under any circumstances including if “the kid is going to be born next week” but the person has “a migraine.” From The O’Reilly Factor:
BILL O'REILLY (HOST): If you are going to say that the two Democrats running for president both favor pretty much abortion at any time, for any reason, and they hide behind the women's health issue, but that could be a migraine headache, you know. OK, I don't want to have the kid, my boyfriend left me, my husband left me, whatever it may be, I got a migraine, kid is going to be born next week.
KIRSTEN POWERS: I don't think that many people get abortions because they have a migraine headache.
O'REILLY: OK, it doesn't matter. It's theoretical. [Fox News Channel, The O’Reilly Factor, 4/15/16]
Other Right-Wing Media Have Also Spread Misinformation About The Existence Of So-Called “Partial-Birth” Abortion Procedures
Townhall: Clinton Will Demand “The Right Of Abortion At 8 Months And 29 Days” And Ensure That “Partial-Birth Abortions [Are] A Routine Convenience.” According to Townhall, a Clinton presidency would mean the establishment of a “right of abortion at 8 months and 29 days.” In the October 10 article, Townhall further alleged that if elected, Clinton would ensure that so-called “partial-birth abortions [are] a routine convenience” in addition to promoting other “policies that break up families to create a large voting bloc of single mothers dependent upon government handouts.” From Townhall:
Think of it. If anyone wavers, abstains, considers Johnson or Stein, or worst of all, gives in and votes for Hillary, all of us must prepare for our lives under a Hillary Clinton presidency:
She will insist upon the right of abortion at 8 months and 29 days, and partial-birth abortions will be a routine convenience. Along the way, she will continue to promote policies that breakup families to create a large voting bloc of single mothers dependent upon government handouts. [Townhall, 10/10/16]
The Daily Caller: Pence Attacked Clinton’s “Extreme Stance On Abortion” By Invoking Her “Support For Partial-Birth Abortion.” The Daily Caller applauded Pence’s effort to attack Clinton’s “extreme stance on abortion” during the vice presidential debate. In the October 4 article, The Daily Caller alleged that by invoking “Clinton’s support for partial-birth abortion” as well as her promise “to revoke the law that bans taxpayer funding of abortions” -- the Hyde amendment -- Pence successfully challenged the Democratic nominee’s reproductive rights positions. From The Daily Caller:
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence challenged Democrat opponent Sen. Tim Kaine to defend Hillary Clinton’s extreme stance on abortion during Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate, saying his own pro-life stance is based on a biblical worldview.
Pence noted that he has sought to expand alternatives to abortion in Indiana, particularly by encouraging adoption, and then brought up Clinton’s support for partial-birth abortion and her plan to revoke the law that bans taxpayer funding of abortions.
“What I can’t understand is with Hillary Clinton — and now Sen. Kaine at her side — is to support a practice like partial-birth abortion, to hold to the view that … The very idea that a child who is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me,” he said. [The Daily Caller, 10/4/16]
Newsmax: Kaine Has “Put His Personal Beliefs Aside” To Support “Hillary Clinton’s Desire For Partial-Birth Abortion.” Conservative media outlet Newsmax calimed Kaine “put his personal beliefs aside” about faith and abortion in order to support “Hillary Clinton’s desire for partial-birth and for taxpayer-funded abortion.” In contrast, Newsmax praised Pence’s decision to “oppose abortion” as a matter of upholding what he called “the value of every human life”:
Vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine both boast a strong Christian faith and both oppose abortion as part of their faith, but Republican Pence said in Tuesday's debate Democrat Kaine has put his personal beliefs aside to follow presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's desire for partial-birth abortion and for taxpayer-funded abortion.
“My faith informs my life,” Pence said. “I try spend time on my knees every day. But all for me, it begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life.” [Newsmax, 10/4/16]
False Labeling Of Abortion Procedures Is Not A One-Time Move For Anti-Choice Groups
Vox: “Rebranding” Abortion Procedures As “Partial-Birth” Assisted Anti-Choice Groups In “Sway[ing] More People Against Abortion In General For A Time.” In June 2016, Vox’s Emily Crockett explained that anti-choice groups effectively lobbied for abortion restrictions by invoking the false idea of “partial-birth” abortion during George W. Bush’s presidency. She noted that although it was “not a medical term,” the effective “rebranding by anti-abortion advocates … helped to swap the public against it -- and even to sway more people against abortion in general for a time.” Given these successes, Crockett noted, it was unsurprising that anti-choice groups and lawmakers were attempting to label other abortion procedures as “the new ‘partial-birth abortion’" in an attempt to encourage public opposition and garner support for additional anti-abortion legislation. [Vox, 6/1/16]
ThinkProgress: Newer Abortion Restrictions Are “Familiar” Because They Rely On “Some Of The Tactics” Behind The “Partial-Birth” Strategy. ThinkProgress reported that efforts by anti-choice groups to ban a variety of abortion procedures were “familiar” because the efforts rely on “some of the tactics” utilized to generate public opposition to so-called “‘partial birth abortion.’” In the June 3 article, Laurel Raymond wrote that because many “Americans were confused by the contradictory term ‘partial birth’” it was effective in exploiting a lack of public knowledge about actual abortion procedures. Raymond quoted the Guttmacher Institute’s state issues manager Elizabeth Nash, who noted that new attempts to ban abortion were “clearly” modeled after the strategy used by anti-choice groups to fearmonger about “partial-birth” abortion in the past. [ThinkProgress, 6/3/16]