The Corner

Politics & Policy

What Isn’t Missing from the Abortion Debate

(Carlos Barria/REUTERS)

Anna North of Vox interviewed Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, under the headline, “What’s missing from the conversation about late abortions, explained by a doctor.”

The main points in the article will, notwithstanding the title, be familiar to anyone who has been following the debate.

1) “Late-term abortion” is a phrase used only by ignorant hicks, while “late abortion” and “abortions later in pregnancy” are medically approved; this distinction is absolutely vital.

2) The percentage of abortions that take place “later in pregnancy” is small — Brandi rounds it to 1 percent — and the number isn’t worth estimating. We’re talking, very roughly, about 12,000 cases a year.

3) While “abortion opponents claimed that babies are sometimes born alive after failed abortions that happen late in pregnancy, and that they are then ‘left to die’ or even executed by doctors,” this is false because “the case of a baby born after a failed abortion is so rare as to be essentially unheard of.”

I’ll repeat what I said about a previous “fact check” of this kind.

We don’t have reliable numbers about how often these cases occur nationally. The state of Arizona reports that ten cases happened during five months in 2017. Florida reports eleven for the full year of 2017. The CDC has an estimate, which it suggests could well be too low, of 143 cases from 2003 through 2014.

Whether you think these numbers are too small to be worth thinking about will probably turn on whether you think human beings at that stage of development have a right to life.

4) “Often” abortions late in pregnancy are done for reasons “related to health,” and there is no need to dwell on the fact that nobody has asserted otherwise, to inquire about percentages or numbers, or to suggest that the legal availability of abortions late in pregnancy should be restricted in any way to make sure they are “related to health.”

5) Laws protecting babies born alive in the process of an abortion are unnecessary because existing laws already cover such cases.

The new twist in this article — new, at any rate, to me — is the claim that the federal ban on partial-birth abortion makes it illegal to kill or withhold ordinary medical care from these babies. To its credit, Vox includes a link to the text of the partial-birth law. The operative provisions are not lengthy (search for “Sec. 1531” here). They are narrowly drawn, and forbid the intentional killing of a child who is partially outside the mother’s body. No provision of federal law specifically forbids killing or withholding ordinary medical care from infants who survive abortion, or stipulates penalties for doing these things. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, mentioned negatively in the article, would fill these gaps in the law (with penalties for the abortionist rather than the mother).

What Vox apparently thought was missing from the abortion debate was a little more misinformation.

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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