In examining the flood of lies that spills out of President Donald Trump’s mouth on a daily basis, arguably the most egregious are his claims about abortion—and specifically, about so-called “late-term abortions.” Trump has repeated several times in the past a myth created by anti-abortion activists. For example, during his State of the Union address in January, he said, “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 from birth.” He also claimed that Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam “stated he [Northam] would execute a baby after birth.” In February, Trump tweeted, “The Democrat position on abortion is now so extreme that they don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth.”
Last Saturday, Trump embellished the lie some more, claiming during a political rally in Wisconsin that doctors and parents conspire to murder babies after birth. “The baby is born,” said Trump. “The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”
Not surprisingly, these wild and dangerous claims were met with shock and anger by members of the medical community. “Abortion later in pregnancy is not used as an alternative to delivering healthy women’s full-term, viable pregnancies,” said Dr. Barbara Levy in an interview on CNN. Levy, who serves as vice president of health policy at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, explained, “Additionally, it’s callous to suggest that healthy women with viable pregnancies at term abruptly change their minds and seek abortion care as the solution.”
Trump wants us to believe that people undergo elective procedures to terminate perfectly healthy pregnancies well after fetuses are viable outside the womb. But that is simply not the case. There is no such thing as a “late-term abortion.” There are only very small percentages of pregnancies in which a fatal health problem arises with the fetus or mother in the second or third trimester, resulting in doctors and parents having to make incredibly difficult and painful decisions about birth and palliative care before death.
One former NICU nurse named Julia Pulver wrote on April 27 a series of tweets about her direct experience serving on a “bereavement team” that offers care for infants who are certain to live only a few hours. She ended her viral thread by asserting that “NO ONE ever, in any hospital, nor any mother who has just given birth, is conspiring with a doctor on whether or not to commit infanticide,” and added, “This is perhaps one of the sickest accusations levied by this deranged dictator yet. Don’t believe a word he says about anything important.”
What Trump and his anti-abortion allies are doing is politicizing the worst day of a parent’s life, purposefully conflating palliative care for a dying baby with murder, as if homicide were not already illegal. In order to expose Trump’s lies about “late-term abortions,” women who have experienced the pain of losing a baby just before or after birth have publicly shared their experiences in an effort to debunk his irresponsible rhetoric. One of those women is Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist who lost a son when her water broke at only 23 weeks. Dr. Gunter wrote a deeply moving and disturbing description of the horror she experienced.
It isn’t just Trump and his evangelical anti-abortion supporters who are guilty of spreading propaganda. Much of the Republican Party has staked its political future on the desperate gasp of anti-abortionists to overturn Roe v. Wade by introducing and passing bills banning “late-term abortions”—again, not a thing—in order to foster a strong correlation in the minds of their voters: Abortion equals murder equals Democrats. A bill banning late-term abortions is like a bill banning voter fraud by undocumented immigrants—a ban on a fictitious phenomenon created in order to conjure up an imagined reality on top of which to build political power.
Republicans want political power and appear willing to do anything to get it. But the anti-abortionists have set their sights on ending through the Supreme Court the constitutional right of women to choose abortion. Pamela Merritt, co-director of Reproaction, explained to me in an interview that that with a 5-4 anti-choice majority on the Supreme Court—engineered by evangelical influencers through Trump—“The only thing standing between the constitutional right to abortion and not having that is Chief Justice John Roberts.” She added, “I don’t know very many people in this country who want their civil rights and their constitutional rights in the hands of somebody who is that conservative.”
Beyond potentially losing women’s right to control their bodies, Trump’s lies about “late-term abortions” offer a thinly veiled green light for violence against medical providers and abortion clinics. Merritt explained that Trump’s rhetoric “quite literally puts people’s lives in danger. It’s absolutely unacceptable for the president to spout these lies but particularly within 24 hours of somebody fueled by his hateful rhetoric carrying out a hateful act in a synagogue.” She worried that Trump’s lie that doctors and mothers conspire to kill babies is exactly “the kind of thing that gets spouted by anti-abortion terrorists.”
But these lies have been circulating in Trump’s anti-abortion evangelical base for years. Last year at a social gathering, I happened to be discussing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing with a friend when I was overheard by a woman who turned out to be an anti-abortion activist and lawyer. This highly educated woman began practically frothing at the mouth, berating me for supporting abortion rights and rattled off exactly the kind of lies Trump told during his State of the Union address and at his Wisconsin rally. Entering my personal space aggressively, she explained to me how babies are ripped out of mothers’ wombs and killed because the mothers wanted an abortion.
It was the first I had ever heard of such claims, and all I could say was that such a thing could not possibly be true. Afterward, when I researched it, I realized anti-abortion activists had created a dangerous myth in order to criminalize abortion. Now that myth is gaining legitimacy from the highest authority in the nation: the president.
I wonder: Do they really believe the lies? Any sane person who hears Trump’s description about a cold and calculating decision by health care providers and parents to murder a newborn in a hospital would ask why such actions were not already illegal—they are. They would question the veracity of a tale so far-fetched that it becomes apparent that its only purpose is to incite violence among the easily swayed and well-armed, goading them to commit violence against doctors, nurses and abortion providers.
There are laws criminalizing homicide in this nation, and there are laws protecting women’s constitutional right to an abortion. But there are also laws against inciting violence, and Trump ought to be reminded of that before his lies get someone killed.