Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.
The New York Times released responses Nov. 25 to an abortion survey they sent to the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, showing some disturbing truths about where the frontrunners stand on the controversial issue.
Ten candidates responded to a question on the survey asking if there should “be restrictions on abortion after the point of viability (roughly 24 weeks)? If so, what restrictions?” Eight of these ten candidates indicated that there should be no restrictions on abortion even after the point of viability.
Many of the candidates responded to the question by arguing that the decision should be left up to women — rhetoric that is identical to their views on pre-viability abortions.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., responded, “abortion is health care and decisions regarding someone’s health care should be made between that person and their doctor.”
An aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., replied, “Bernie believes that women should control their own bodies, period.” Tom Steyer answered that “every woman should have the right to control her own body” and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., simply replied “no” to the question of post-viability restrictions.
Four candidates argued that abortion past 21 weeks is rare and those cases often involve difficult circumstances.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg replied, “The fact is that less than 1 percent of abortions take place after 24 weeks of pregnancy. They often involve heartbreaking circumstances in which a person’s health or life is at risk, or when the fetus has a congenital condition that is incompatible with life.”
“I trust people and their families to make these decisions with the guidance of their medical providers, who understand the complications and factors that are unique to every pregnancy,” he concluded.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., cited a similar statistic and emphasized the difficulty of such situations, taking the opportunity to condemn 20-week abortion bans.
“Only 1.3 percent of abortions take place at 21 weeks or later, and the reasons are heartbreaking. 20-week abortion bans are dangerous and cruel,” Sen. Warren claimed. “They would force women to carry an unviable fetus to term or force women with severe health complications to stay pregnant with their lives on the line … We must not allow politicians to make this decision for parents and families just so they can score cheap political points.”
Bans on abortion past 20 weeks are in response to a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that unborn babies feel pain at 20 weeks. There are also rare but increasing instances of children, like Micah Pickering, who have survived birth at 21-22 weeks.
Author Marianne Williamson said, “Late abortions are done infrequently and for medical reasons. This decision should be up to the woman and her doctor, not the government.”
Hilary Kinney, a spokeswoman for entrepreneur Andrew Yang answered, “In the U.S. in 2015, 1.3 percent of abortions take place after the 21st week, and less than 1 percent take place after the 24th week. If abortions happen at this late of a stage in a pregnancy, it is almost always because of extreme circumstances, medical or otherwise. In these cases, Andrew believes the decision should lie between a woman and her doctor, not the government.”
According to the most recently available data from the Guttmacher Institute, 1.3 percent of women have abortions after 21 weeks, however, that still add up to over 12,000 abortions a year. Pro-life physicians have argued that in difficult medical situations “the direct abortion — the purposeful destruction of the unborn child — is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.”
Of the 10 candidates that answered the question, two indicated support for some kind of restriction on post-viability abortion: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak.
Sen. Klobuchar’s spokeswoman Carlie Waibel responded, “Senator Klobuchar believes any restrictions must be consistent with Roe v. Wade.”
“While I am loath to ever get between a woman and her doctor — for I believe that is not a proper place for government — I do believe that after the point of viability abortion should only be performed when there is a threat to the life or health of the mother,” Sestak replied, “or in cases when it is determined that the developing fetus will not be able to survive outside the womb.”
Some candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden, did not answer the viability question at all. Biden, who was baptized Catholic, has had a series of reversals on the abortion issue. Most recently, he came out in opposition to the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of taxpayer funds for abortions.
The Supreme Court discussed the viability standard in their 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and their 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision.
In Casey, the high court wrote that the government “may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,” and reaffirmed from Roe that "subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."
Roe v. Wade defined viable as “potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid,” adding that “viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”
The Court acknowledged in their 1979 Colautti v. Franklin decision that “different physicians equate viability with different probabilities of survival, and some physicians refuse to equate viability with any numerical probability at all.”
The candidates’ insistence on abortion even after viability is out of step with Gallup polling, which has found that just 28% of Americans support abortion in the second trimester and only 13% support it in the third trimester.