As an ob/gyn and abortion provider, it’s hard to see politicians inserting themselves into some of the most sensitive and intimate moments in women’s health care as if they were experts in the field. Donald Trump’s State of the Union was the pinnacle of this creepy encroachment. Let us count the ways that the president lied or twisted the facts about abortion and reproductive health in particular.
He said that new legislation passed in New York allows babies to be “ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”
This is just plain wrong. This law is intended to protect patients' health and remove harmful barriers to abortion care. Even if a woman wanted to get an abortion during labor, no doctor would do it for her. Only very rarely are pregnancies terminated after 24 weeks, when the life of the mother is in danger or the fetus is not viable (meaning it won’t be able to live outside the womb).
I recently saw a 23-weeks-pregnant patient who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer just days before. Her husband also had cancer, and despite this being a very wanted pregnancy, the couple was suddenly facing the horrific reality of having to figure out who would love and raise their 3-year-old child once they passed away. My patient knew that an abortion would prolong her life a little bit and allow her more time with her toddler (the pregnancy was causing the cancer to kill her faster, since her body was fighting to keep both her and the fetus alive). Had she been more than 24 weeks pregnant and in a state with stricter laws, she would not have had this option.
He asked Congress to prohibit “late-term abortion.”
What even is that? It’s not a medical term used in any clinical setting. It was invented by anti-abortion extremists to confuse, mislead, and increase stigma. In obstetrics we use trimesters or number of weeks to characterize pregnancies (so, “abortions at X number of weeks”). “Late-term” says nothing about which trimester we’re referring to or whether the fetus is even viable (viability is traditionally considered to be 24 weeks; this is the point at which it has a 50 percent chance of surviving outside the uterus, albeit with potentially significant disabilities).
Like I said: When women have abortions after 24 weeks, it’s almost always due to tragic situations in pregnancies that they want. Does Trump plan to prohibit fetal abnormalities and unexpected health crises? If not, what does he propose doing for my patient who was dying of sudden heart failure brought on by her pregnancy? Would he force her to deliver a 25-week-old baby who might end up with cerebral palsy due to its extreme prematurity? I hope he also plans to pay for this family’s lifelong medical bills.
He said that “children” can “feel pain in the mother’s womb.”
To the best of our medical and scientific knowledge, it is completely wrong to assert that a fetus feels pain before about 29 weeks. What politicians are claiming directly conflicts with research endorsed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other leading medical organizations. What’s more, anti-abortion groups are well-aware of these findings. They are harmfully mischaracterizing what is actually lifesaving medical care.
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