Who’s Really ‘Wildly Out of Step’ on Second Trimester Abortion?

The White House claims a law barring abortion at 15 weeks is ‘extreme,’ but U.S. polling data and international standards indicate the opposite.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. (photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre told reporters Tuesday that a proposal to prohibit abortion nationally past 15 weeks of pregnancy was “wildly out of step with where the majority of Americans are.” She argued that the bill, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would “strip away a woman’s rights in all 50 states.”

One reporter challenged Pierre, asking, “you just said that this is ‘wildly out of step’ with how the American people feel.  But throughout the years and even recently, there have been many polls that show — his bill calls for a 15-week ban — that even amongst people who would like abortion to be legal, when it comes to bans at 15 weeks, 20 weeks, 24, there actually is support for that.  So is the White House open to work — to speaking with Senator Graham about some kind of compromise?”

Pierre replied that his measure would keep in place “the most extreme state-level abortion bans that ban all abortions and have no exceptions for health — for health, rape, or incest” and that his bill “also provides no exceptions for women who may need access to abortion for their health.” It is unclear what Pierre meant by a “health” of the mother exception, but Graham’s bill does contain exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk as well as for cases of rape and incest.

 

Second Trimester Abortion Views and Numbers

As for the bill being an “extreme piece of legislation,” a large and consistent body of polling would indicate otherwise. In June 2021, an Associated Press poll found that 65% of Americans believed that abortion should be illegal in the second trimester. Gallup polling from 2018 dating back to 1996 consistently has found that only 24-28% of Americans support abortion in the second trimester. More recently, a Harvard Harris survey conducted in June 2022 after Roe v. Wade was overturned found that 72% of voters, including 60% of Democratic voters, thought their state should not allow abortion past 15 weeks.  

While Pierre characterized the bill as “taking rights away for millions — millions of women across the country,” the measure would affect far fewer women than that, as the vast majority of abortions take place in the first trimester of pregnancy. According to the most recently available Center for Disease Control (CDC) numbers on the topic from 2019, 92.7% of the 629,898 abortions reported that year were “performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (6.2%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (<1.0%) were performed at ≥21 weeks’ gestation.”

 

International Standards

Prohibiting abortion past 15 weeks in pregnancy is not “wildly out of step” with most Americans, but permitting abortion past that point is out of step with the rest of the world. 

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute did an analysis in July 2021 finding that “out of the 42 European countries that allow elective abortion, 39 countries limit elective abortion to 15 weeks’ gestation or earlier. The majority of these 39 European countries set gestational limits for elective abortion at or before 12 weeks’ gestation.”

The issue also came up during the oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Health case that resulted in Roe being overturned. Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out that the 15-week ban put in place by the state of Mississippi in that case was “not a dramatic departure from viability,” and “is the standard that the vast majority of other countries have. When you get to the viability standard, we share that standard with the People's Republic of China and North Korea.”

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