The Washington Post has demonstrated once again its intense unwillingness to report accurately on abortion policy. The latest example is this weak attempt to fact-check President Trump’s comments on the Democratic Party’s extremism on abortion late in pregnancy.
Salvador Rizzo, a reporter for the Post’s fact-checking arm, opens the article with a Trump quote from early March: “Virtually every Democrat candidate has declared their unlimited support for extreme late-term abortion, ripping babies straight from the mother’s womb, right up until the very moment of birth.”
Here’s how Rizzo frames his ensuing attempt at correcting the president: “Trump has repeated this fiery claim dozens of times in campaign rallies, speeches and tweets. The wording never changes. The verb is always ‘rip.’ The womb is always mentioned. He never leaves out the ‘moment of birth.’ We keep adding it to our database of everything false or misleading from Trump, but the claim is so visceral and deceptive that it deserves its own fact check.”
The Post awards the president three “Pinocchios,” out of a possible four, for this supposedly deceptive claim. But while Trump’s rhetoric certainly is bombastic, there’s far more truth in his statement than there is in Rizzo’s poor effort to debunk it.
He begins his “fact-check” with this claim: “Most abortions are performed in the earlier stages of pregnancy. About 1 percent happen after the fetus reaches the point of viability. In short, the president is describing something that rarely happens and that no Democrat is calling for anyway.”
As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru and I both have pointed out in the past, post-viability abortions might be rare relative to overall U.S. abortions, but given the massive scale of abortion in our country, rare isn’t nearly as uncommon as legal-abortion supporters, and the Post, would have you believe.
Rizzo is correct that about 1 percent of annual abortions occur after 20 weeks’ gestation, though the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute puts it at about 1.3 percent. But Guttmacher also estimates that there are around 926,000 abortions in the U.S. each year, meaning that about 12,000 of those abortions take place after fetal viability. As Ramesh has observed, that means there are more post-viability abortions annually than there are gun homicides, according to FBI estimates. Rizzo’s attempt to side-step the president’s claim with equivocations about the relative rarity of late-term abortion, then, offers little clarity about whether Trump’s statement was correct.
Next, he says that while “Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and some others who competed in the presidential primary, said they favored having no restrictions on abortion,” Biden is now the party’s de facto nominee, and he “does not take such a sweeping position.”
Only if by “some others” Rizzo means “nearly every Democratic primary candidate” would his first claim be accurate. As I noted in the Post’s own pages last November, every serious contender for the Democratic nomination — including Biden — favors unlimited elective abortion throughout pregnancy. The only exceptions are Amy Klobuchar and Tulsi Gabbard, both of whom have said they’d allow some restrictions on abortions in the last three months of pregnancy.
The Democratic Party’s platform, too, comports much more closely with Trump’s claim than with the gloss Rizzo tries to put on it. Not only does it call for “safe and legal” abortion with no mention of any permissible restrictions, but it also demands that all U.S. taxpayers be required to fund elective abortion procedures. This is the position Biden has adopted, regardless of his efforts to spin himself as a moderate on the subject.
The rest of Rizzo’s article leans heavily on the common misconception that abortion jurisprudence such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey allow states to regulate abortion later in pregnancy, as long as they provide exceptions for “maternal life and health.” But he almost entirely ignores that Roe companion case Doe v. Bolton defined “maternal health” expansively to include “physical, emotional, psychological, [and] familial” health — in short, a massive loophole for abortion on demand. The only nod Rizzo offers to this reality is a quote from Steve Aden, chief legal counsel at Americans United for Life.
Never once does Rizzo bother to investigate the medical details of what takes place in a post-viability abortion procedure, perhaps the most salient information when trying to determine whether Trump’s line bears any resemblance to reality. Instead, he places the phrase “late-term abortion” in scare quotes, as if to indicate that the procedure is a fiction invented by the president.
Trump often deserves criticism for imprecise or inaccurate rhetoric, but on this subject, his refusal to sanitize what happens in a late-term abortion is admirable. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, and journalists like Rizzo, would much prefer to ignore the undeniable reality that every abortion ends a human life — and that abortions after viability entail lethally injecting the fetus to stop her heartbeat and removing her piece by piece from her mother’s womb.
To the extent that the public remains unaware of the Democratic Party’s embrace of this procedure, it is in large part because of “fact-checks” such as this one.