On the latest episode of The View, Meghan McCain challenged Pete Buttigieg to elaborate on his support for abortion even late in pregnancy. McCain asked the Democratic presidential hopeful about an interview last fall in which he had defended his support for legal abortion by claiming that the Bible says “life begins with breath.” Here’s the heart of their exchange:
McCain: I think the interpretation from pro-life people like me was that you meant a baby actually being born . . . I just wanted you to clarify, because I found that statement to be pretty radical.
Buttigieg: I’m just pointing to the fact that different people will interpret their own moral lights, and for that matter interpret Scripture, differently. But we live in a country where it is extremely important that no one person should have to be subject to some other person’s interpretation of their own religion. . . .
McCain: . . .I think people, even Democrats — and there are a lot of pro-life Democrats in the country — want to know exactly where your line is. . . .
Buttigieg: My point is that it shouldn’t be up to the government official to draw the line. It should be up the woman who is confronted with that choice. (Applause.)
McCain: So if a woman wanted to invoke infanticide after a baby is born, you’d be comfortable with that?
Buttigieg: Does anybody seriously think that’s what these cases are about? If this is a late-term situation, then by definition it’s one where a woman was expecting to carry the pregnancy to term. Then she gets the most perhaps devastating news of her life. We’re talking about families that may have picked out a name, may be assembling a crib, and they learn something excruciating and are faced with this terrible choice. And I don’t know what to tell them morally about what they should do. I just know that I trust that her decision isn’t going to be any better, medically or morally . . . because the government is telling her to do it a certain way.
There are several key flaws in Buttigieg’s response. For one thing, he relies on a common tactic of abortion-rights defenders, which is to misstate the facts about late-term abortion. As I’ve written before on NRO, women in the U.S. do obtain abortions after 20 weeks for reasons other than, as Buttigieg puts it, having received “devastating news.” His implication is, of course, that abortions after viability only take place in emergencies, in cases where there is a severe health complication with either the baby or the mother (though he doesn’t quite come out and say this because it’s more rhetorically effective to hedge that claim).
In fact, plenty of women obtain abortions in the third trimester for reasons other than a fetal-health condition (and even then, I fail to see how killing an unborn human being because he or she is diagnosed with a health problem is any kind of solution). Consider this interview with one of the few U.S. abortionists who performs late abortions, in which she says, “a large percentage of our patients had no idea that they were pregnant.” Here’s more from her comments:
They think they just got pregnant. They have no idea they’re in their 24th week. So they make an appointment for an abortion, and it takes a few weeks, and they have their ultrasound and find out that they’re at 27 weeks, which is too far for an abortion anywhere. So then what happens? They either give up or have a baby, or they go on the Internet and they find us.
These women, in other words, seek and obtain elective abortions in the third trimester. There’s also Southwestern Women’s Options, a New Mexico clinic that advertises elective abortions through 32 weeks’ gestation, well into the third trimester, and offers abortions after 32 weeks on a case-by-case basis.
This 2013 Guttmacher article, meanwhile, notes that “data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” Rather, they most often do so for reasons such as “they were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous.”
Buttigieg’s defense of late-term abortion, then, is resting on a false set of facts. It’s also a sidestep that doesn’t address the heart of what McCain was asking. Whenever he’s asked to articulate his position on abortion, Buttigieg attempts a neat sidestep, claiming that the real question ought to be whether a woman, rather than the government, gets to make her own choices.
But the central question of the debate over abortion policy isn’t whether we should trust women or government officials. The question is whether and what abortion kills. If, as pro-lifers argue, every abortion intentionally ends the life of a unique human organism, our policy debate must acknowledge and address that fact.
The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., prefers to disguise his radical position by dressing it up with fictions.