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Politics & Policy

Trump Was Right about New York’s Abortion Law

President Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., February 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/Reuters)

The Washington Post declares, “Abortion Legislation in New York Wouldn’t Do What Trump Said.” It doesn’t establish that he’s wrong in any particular.

Regarding New York, Trump said, “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

The Post’s Meg Kelly writes, “Currently, all but seven states have prohibitions on gestational limits, from 20 to 24 weeks, or the point of ‘viability.’ (A woman is considered to have reached full term when she is between 37-42 weeks.)”

This is both misleading — since those prohibitions have either explicit or implicit exceptions for a broadly defined “health” of the mother, they aren’t really prohibitions — and irrelevant to anything Trump said.

Kelly continues, “Indeed, only 1.3 percent of abortions — or about 8,500 a year — take place at or after 21 weeks, according to 2014 data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Guttmacher Institute.” Not that, again, it contradicts anything Trump said, but that annual number may well be too low. The Guttmacher Institute produces a much higher estimate of the number of abortions annually than the CDC does. Kelly’s first link takes you to a report that has this line right in its short summary: “According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 926,200 abortions were performed in 2014; 1.3% of abortions were performed at or over 21 weeks’ gestation in 2013.” If that’s right, it works out to 12,000 abortions after the 20th week, not 8,500. (The second link takes you to a fact sheet that includes the same numbers as that summary.)

Here’s the meat of Kelly’s dispute:

The legislation in New York would not have “allowed a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” It states a health care practitioner “may perform an abortion when, according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s  life or health.”

The text of the law bears out rather than contradicts Trump’s comment. So long as the abortionist is willing to say that an abortion is necessary to protect the pregnant woman’s health — including emotional health — the abortion can take place at any time before or after 24 weeks. Two decades ago, during a debate over similar legislation, late-term abortionist Warren Hern explained that he would always testify that an abortion he wished to perform would avert adverse health consequences (Frank Murray, “Daschle Ban May Not Ban Anything; Abortionists Could Use Own Judgment,” Washington Times, May 15, 1997).

But even if that weren’t true — even if the New York law would ban some abortions — Trump would still be right in saying that it allows the killing of babies moments before they would otherwise be born.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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