In an attempt to rile conservatives, President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to repeat abortion opponents’ latest lie.
The president mischaracterized two abortion bills in Virginia and New York during his speech to a joint session of Congress. The bills codify rights already established in Roe v. Wade. The New York bill was signed into law on the 46th anniversary of the landmark abortion rights case, while the Virginia bill has so far failed to leave a key legislative committee.
“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” Trump falsely claimed Tuesday evening in his State of the Union address. “These are living, feeling, beautiful, babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth,” the president said.
The Virginia bill modestly loosens restrictions after the second trimester, saying only one provider, not three, needs to approve third-trimester abortions in specific circumstances. The New York bill, alternatively, removes abortion from the state’s criminal code and codifies access in a new section of the Public Health Law.
“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” the president added.
His misleading statements are part of a pattern of recent misinformation about the bills: They were the subject of a false splice video of the Virginia’s bill sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D), that went viral last week. She’s since received racist, threatening messages. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was also asked about the bill in a radio interview and his confusing, inaccurate response only further emboldened conservatives; Northam said after a failed abortion, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” His baffling explanation underscores a lot of lawmakers unfamiliarity with later abortions.
The bills codify abortion rights within their respective states, because the president appointed two Supreme Court justices who are likely to roll back federal abortion rights established in Roe. Roe protects the right to later abortions (or after fetal viability) in narrow circumstances, saying states may not prohibit abortions “necessary to preserve the life or health” of the pregnant person.
But you wouldn’t know any of this after listening to the president’s address, and activists say that’s the point.
“Trump and [Vice President Mike] Pence have made it abundantly clear they will stop at nothing to punish women and push abortion out of reach. And worst of all, their hateful agenda specifically targets the most marginalized in our communities — low-income people, people of color, immigrants, and transgender people,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of the reproductive justice group All* Above All, in a statement to ThinkProgress.
“We aren’t political footballs to be sacrificed to excite their base. We are rising up and advancing policies and strategies to protect our rights, our families, and our communities,” she added.
Conservative leaders like Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List reportedly pressured Trump into mentioning the Virginia and New York bills during his address. The president first commented on the Virginia bill last week, telling the Daily Caller the latest outrage over later abortions would “lift up the whole pro-life movement.”
The mischaracterizations are just that, and patients who have had abortions later in pregnancy said as much in a letter released on Tuesday, ahead of the president’s remarks.
“Later abortions stories are often ones of tragedy and loss. For others they are stories of relief. They feature struggles with hope, women betrayed by their bodies and the incredible complexity of pregnancy. Many stories are ones of overcoming the many obstacles and restrictions our states have placed on these procedures,” the letter says.
“We are not monsters. We are your family, your neighbors, someone you love. We are you, just in different circumstances. Due to ignorance, many of us may not have supported later abortion access before facing a crisis ourselves, accepting restrictions on healthcare we never imagined needing.”