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Politics & Policy

Slate vs. David Brooks on Late-Term Abortion

David Brooks recently wrote that liberals were sacrificing important goals—such as winning elections—in order to keep abortion free from legal restriction even late in pregnancy. Cheryl Axelrod responds in Slate: Late-term abortion is worth protecting whatever the cost. I’ll respond to her points in order.

First: Axelrod accuses Brooks of making things up.

I’m disappointed you even brought up “ninth month” terminations. That’s not a medical procedure. It’s simply not an issue. No one wakes up at 36 weeks of pregnancy and thinks, “Let’s have an abortion today.” You are propagating a false issue and that is beneath you.

Brooks, of course, did not write that anyone wakes up at 36 weeks of pregnancy and decides to have an abortion that day. He wrote that some Democrats “want to preserve a woman’s right to choose through all nine months of her pregnancy.” He’s right. Axelrod is one of those Democrats. That’s the whole point of her article! She writes that “there is no comfortable upper threshold for ending a pregnancy.”

Second: She claims that late-term abortions are rare. “In fact, only 7 percent of abortions are after 14 weeks, and less than 2 percent are after 20 weeks.” That link takes you to a report on the 664,435 abortions reported to the CDC for 2013. Two percent of that number would represent 13,288 unborn children. To get a sense of scale, consider that the CDC reports that gun homicides claimed the lives of 11,208 people in the U.S. that year.

Third: “Far and away, these women and families are ending loved and wanted pregnancies due to grave health concerns for either mother or fetus.” Axelrod provides no evidence for this contention; nor does she suggest that the law should protect unborn children late in pregnancy from being killed for any other reasons. A 2013 study of abortions after 20 weeks reported that “data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

Fourth: Axelrod objects to Brooks’s terminology. 

“Late term” abortion is a wastebasket term used by the anti-choice zealots to describe a spectrum of procedures and needs. It is nonspecific and conjures up the worst images, likely on purpose.

In the real world, people with widely varying views about abortion use the phrase “late-term abortion” because it accurately and succinctly describes a topic. Here, for example, is the Guttmacher Institute using the phrase: “Banning certain late-term abortion methods interfere[s] with the provider-patient relationship.”

Fifth: Well, this one I’m going to have to block-quote in full.

[T]he Democratic Party is about standing up for what is right because those whose voices are quieter still have needs, and they are no less relevant. We should not sell out women. We should not sell out immigrants. We should not sell out racial minorities. We should not sell out those in poverty. Democrats are, and should continue to be, the party of the moral high ground—who fight tooth and nail to do what is right—even when it is not easy. Even when it makes “winning” harder.

Even Tom Perez might blush to say these words. I doubt that any political party in history matches this simplistic, idealized description. The irony of praising oneself for standing up for “those whose voices are quieter” in an essay defending the killing of unborn children in the late stages of pregnancy, of course, entirely escapes Axelrod.

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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