After the Debate, Fact-Checking GOP Candidates on Abortion

·Contributing Writer

From a “DNA schedule” to allegations that it’s been “consistently proven” that mothers have safe alternatives besides abortion when they have a life-threatening pregnancy condition, Thursday night’s debate was rife with contradictions when it came to issues of reproductive rights. (Photo: Getty Images)

The 17 Republicans seeking to win their party’s presidential nomination took to the stage last night and fought to differentiate themselves from their fellow candidates and to redirect some of the glaring spotlight presently shining on front-runner Donald Trump.

But many took a unified front when it came to their radical opposition to ensuring that women have access to legal abortion. Three of the candidates in particular made especially bold assertions about making abortion illegal — without exceptions for rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk, and often in contradiction to established science and even with their past takes on the issue. 

Gov. Scott Walker answers the question: ‘Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?’

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. (Photo: Getty Images) 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who recently signed a 20-week abortion ban into law in his state, was asked by one of the main debate’s three moderators, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion, and with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?”

Replied Walker, “I believe that this is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there, and I’ve said many a time that unborn child [sic] can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That’s been consistently proven.” 

The bill Walker just signed into law allows abortions to happen after 20 weeks only in the case of “medical emergency,” which is defined as a death that would occur in the next 24 hours. “From the medical standpoint, there’s no real way to know when a woman could die from a life-threatening pregnancy condition,” a spokesperson for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told Yahoo Health. One example is with the life-threatening pregnancy condition preeclampsia — which usually appears after 20 weeks of pregnancy — in which the only way to save the mother’s life is to deliver the fetus. 

When Walker was waiting to sign the 20-week abortion ban in Wisconsin into law earlier this year, the Wisconsin chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists sent the governor a letter expressing its strong opposition to the measure, saying, “By banning abortions after 20 weeks, especially without exceptions that help to protect women, [this law will] tie the hands of doctors seeking to help women and their loved ones. This is bad medicine, based on the thoroughly debunked fallacy that a 20-week fetus — which is not viable — can feel pain. [The bill] would block Wisconsin ob-gyns from being able to treat our patients in a medically appropriate and humane manner. These bills would undoubtedly place us in the unconscionable position of having to watch our patients and their loved ones undergo additional emotional trauma, illness and suffering during what is already a difficult time. … Only a woman and her trusted doctors — not elected officials — should make decisions about her health. Help us protect our patients.”

The letter was signed by 99 obstetrician-gynecologists in Wisconsin.

Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican majority leader of the Wisconsin state Senate, told the New York Times in June that it was Walker himself who asked the Legislature to present him with a 20-week ban, not vice versa, and that he explicitly asked for the bill to be free of any exception for rape or incest.

Sen. Marco Rubio says he ‘never’ supported a rape/incest exception to abortion restrictions 

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. (Photo: Getty Images)

Later in the debate, Kelly asked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio about his position on rape and incest exceptions to abortion bans, saying, “Sen. Rubio, you favor a rape and incest exception to abortion bans. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York just said yesterday those exceptions are preposterous. He said they discriminate against an entire class of human beings. If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?”

Rubio replied, “Well, Megyn, first of all, I’m not sure that that’s a correct assessment of my record. I would go on to add that I believe all…”

Kelly then interrupted him, to clarify, “You don’t favor a rape and incest exception?”

Rubio answered, “I have never said that. And I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection. In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States. And let me go further. I believe that every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws, whether they can vote or not. Whether they can speak or not. Whether they can hire a lawyer or not. Whether they have a birth certificate or not. And I think future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave them [sic] a chance to live.”

Fact checkers at various media outlets quickly called Rubio’s statement into question. The Washington Post noted, “Rubio has a mixed record on abortion exemptions. He has supported bills that have exceptions for victims of rape and incest, but also supported bills without such provisions. Rubio in 2013 co-sponsored a Senate 20-week abortion ban bill that allowed exemptions for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Yet in 2011, he sponsored an anti-abortion bill that [did] not include the same protections.”

Rubio, then, would rather publicly contradict himself in a situation where he knows he would be called out for it than grant that abortion is far from a black-and-white issue.

While first running for his Senate seat in 2009, Rubio was quoted as saying that he is “willing to lose elections over [his] principles” and that he would also take a stance against abortion “even if 100 percent of my constituents were for it.”    

Last year Rubio told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “Let me give you a bit of settled science that [liberals will] never admit to. The science is settled, it’s not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception. … It’s a proven fact. That’s a scientific consensus they choose to ignore.” But it seems that medical experts fail to back up Rubio’s claims.

Research has shown that a fetus will not develop the nerves and neural capacity to experience pain until the third trimester. Plus, there is no evidence showing a fetus has ever survived outside of the womb before 21 weeks, and a fetus is not traditionally thought of as viable outside of the womb until 26 weeks.

Earlier this year Hal Lawrence, MD, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a press conference that there is “no point when [viability] is clearly established” in a fetus’s development and that there is “no medical milestone associated with 20 weeks; the 20-week mark is not notable from a fetal development standpoint.”

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee says a ‘DNA schedule’ is the reason that ‘we clearly know that that baby inside the mother’s womb is a person at the moment of conception’

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. (Photo: Getty Images) 

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, another of the debate’s moderators, “You favor a constitutional amendment banning abortions, except for the life of the mother. Millions of people in this country agree with you, but according to the polls, and again this is an electability question, according to the polls, more people don’t, so how do you persuade enough independents and Democrats to get elected in 2016?” Huckabee, too, seized the moment to stake out an even more radical position than previously on record regarding abortion ban exceptions.

Replied Huckabee, “Chris, I disagree with the idea that the real issue is a constitutional amendment. That’s a long and difficult process. I’ve actually taken the position that’s bolder than that.

“A lot of people are talking about defunding Planned Parenthood, as if that’s a huge game changer. I think it’s time to do something even more bold. I think the next president ought to invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother’s womb is a person at the moment of conception.

“The reason we know that it is, is because of the DNA schedule that we now have clear scientific evidence on. And, this notion that we just continue to ignore the personhood of the individual is a violation of that unborn child’s Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law.”

Numerous health experts asked by Yahoo Health what a “DNA schedule” could be had no idea what Huckabee was referencing.

On his website, though, the concept is explained, but it seems to be interpretive at best:

Life begins at conception, the science on that is actually settled. At the moment of conception, 23 male and 23 female chromosomes create a new DNA schedule. The DNA that is created at conception is the same DNA that will exist in each human for the rest of his or her life.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, however, disagrees: “Pregnancy is established only at the conclusion of implantation of a fertilized egg. This scientific definition of pregnancy is also the legal definition of pregnancy, accepted by governmental agencies and all major U.S. medical organizations.”

Huckabee concluded his point by referencing the recent undercover “sting” videos targeting Planned Parenthood and its participation in legal fetal tissue donation programs released by the antiabortion activist group the Center for Medical Progress, saying, “It’s time that we recognize the Supreme Court is not the supreme being, and we change the policy to be pro-life and protect children instead of rip up their body parts and sell them like they’re parts to a Buick.”