“People have a right to their own opinion,” Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life recently remarked, “but they don’t have a right to their own facts.” He was speaking about the prevalent myth that late-term abortion is done only in cases of medical necessity—or that it isn’t even done at all. “If we’re going to debate abortion in this country, rather than pretending to debate abortion, then we’re going to start with acknowledging that healthy babies of healthy mothers are being killed even at 30 weeks and beyond.”
Priests for Life, a Catholic pro-life organization, has initiated an effort to put this myth to rest once and for all. With the assistance of Abortion Free New Mexico, the group commissioned over a dozen undercover phone calls (with more to come) to abortion clinics across the country. The caller posed as a pregnant woman in the latter stages of a healthy pregnancy. During different calls, she sought to schedule an abortion at 24, 26, 30, and 32 weeks of pregnancy! In every instance, and without hesitation, she was given the green light to have the abortion, even though she had made it clear that both she and her baby were healthy. Not once was she told the abortion she was seeking was illegal; not once was she told it could only be done if the baby had a severe abnormality or if her health or life were in danger. Instead, appointments were scheduled by clinic workers who exhibited a routine attitude and tone of voice. The evidence continues to pile up that late-term abortions on healthy infants are legal and happening regularly. Yet somehow it seems to escape public notice.
During the 2016 election campaign, it seemed for a while that Republican candidates might blow the lid off America’s dirty late-term abortion secret. Carly Fiorina was criticized for saying Planned Parenthood was “pushing women into late-term abortions so they can more successfully harvest body parts.” Later, in one of the most memorable moments of the presidential debates, Donald Trump insisted babies were being “ripped” out of their mothers’ wombs late in pregnancy and said he was “not okay” with it. Hillary Clinton, who had been asked point blank if she believed there should be any limits on abortion, expertly dodged the question by claiming (falsely) that late-term abortions were done only in exceptional cases. “The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for a family to make,” said Clinton, “I have met with women who, toward the end of their pregnancy, get the worst news one could get—that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy.”
But the fact is, Trump wasn’t wrong. Up until 20 weeks (or five months), typical D&E abortions are done by dismembering the unborn child in utero, or “ripping” (in Trump terms). An abortion procedure after 20 weeks is no less barbaric. It takes three or four days from beginning to end, and involves injecting digoxin straight into the baby’s heart to cause cardiac arrest before inducing labor. If someone wants to call the procedure by another name than abortion, which some abortionists do, the result is the same—a dead baby. Yes, abortions are performed throughout pregnancy.
Still, the false idea that late-term abortion is so rare that it’s almost not worth mentioning has been around for years. In an April 2007 episode of the television show The View, Rosie O’Donnell claimed repeatedly that late-term abortions were only 0.15% of all abortions—and were performed only in the most extreme medical conditions: “Mostly the baby is severely ill or the mother’s life is at risk. Nobody voluntarily goes in and says, ‘Please give me a partial-birth abortion, I would like to physically injure [my child].’ It is a grotesque procedure. Usually the woman’s life is at risk.”
While O’Donnell was specifically referring to partial-birth abortion, it is still worth mentioning. Many people think that because partial-birth abortions are now illegal, all late-term abortions are illegal (or rare). They aren’t. The latest fact sheet on induced abortion in the United States from the Guttmacher Institute indicates that 1.3% of abortions occur at 21 weeks or more. That’s 1.3% of nearly a million abortions—in other words, about 13,000 per year.
That means these abortions are more routine than most people imagine, as the phone calls proved time and time again. “This educational project,” says Fr. Pavone, “carried out in partnership with Abortion Free New Mexico, is meant to break through the ignorance and denial that is so prevalent among our fellow citizens. When you tell people that a mother can legally abort her baby at, for instance, 24 weeks or even 30 weeks of pregnancy and beyond—as the calls released today demonstrate—they will look at you in disbelief. Some will say we are making it up. Others will say it happens only if the mother is going to die or the baby is deformed. But it’s time for those myths to stop.”
—Victoria Gisondi does public outreach for Priests for Life, the world’s largest Catholic organization focused exclusively on ending abortion. The undercover calls can be heard at www.PriestsForLife.org/LateTermAbortion.