What Trump and Biden got right – and wrong – about abortion in the first presidential debate

In what has been described as a rough debate by many political analysts, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump participated in the first debate this election cycle, hosted by CNN, with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderating.

While Biden and Trump sparred on many topics, they also discussed abortion… and both made various claims that call for clarification.

Chemical abortions

Noting that Trump takes credit for the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, Bash pointed out that while the legalization of abortion is now determined by individual states, the federal government still oversees abortion pills through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Bash then asked if Trump would support blocking abortion pills; he responded by saying the Supreme Court just “approved” the abortion pill.

This is not accurate. In Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM) v. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Supreme Court did rule in favor of the Biden administration and allowed the newly-expanded access to abortion pills to stand. However, the court did not approve of the expanded measures, nor did they approve the abortion pills; they merely noted that AHM did not have standing to sue, as they have not suffered any injury. This leaves the door open for another lawsuit to be filed in the future.

‘Late-term’ abortions and infanticide

After discussing abortion pills and Roe, Trump said that most Americans agreed with returning abortion to the states, and argued that Democrats have become radical on the issue.

“They will take the life of the child in the eighth month and ninth month, and even after birth,” he said. “After birth. If you look at the former governor of Virginia, he was willing to do this. He said, ‘we’ll put the baby aside, and we’ll determine what we do with the baby,’ meaning we’ll kill the baby.”

This statement had some elements of truth but was not entirely accurate. Trump was referencing 2019 remarks made by former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, when speaking about an extreme pro-abortion bill. His comments caused no small measure of confusion, as he seemingly endorsed infanticide:

When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of, obviously, the mother with the consent of the physicians – more than one physician, by the way – and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s nonviable.

So in this particular example, if the mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physician and the mother.

It appears that Northam was describing how doctors and parents would discuss how to best treat a “nonviable” infant that is born alive but presumably not expected to survive. Depending on the circumstance, physicians may discuss palliative care (if the child’s condition is not treatable and he or she is expected to pass quickly) as well as active care options with the child’s parents. There is a distinction between “comfort/palliative care” and infanticide by neglect, and this should not be taken lightly. Children should never be left to die by neglect, nor actively killed; this would fall under the category of infanticide.

Notably, Northam was wrong about why late abortions are done; a 2013 study led by pro-abortion researchers Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport showed that overall, “women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” (emphasis added)

There have been recent bills introduced that have opened the door to legal infanticide through use of questionable language regarding “pregnancy outcomes,” such as in Maryland, Colorado, and California. Others have outright admitted to being willing to deprive care to abortion survivors, if not actively kill them.

Furthermore, it is true that late (or ‘late-term’) abortions are permitted, and though they are not nearly as common as earlier abortions, approximately 10,370 abortions are committed after 21 weeks of pregnancy each year, and an estimated 65,000- 77,000 abortions are committed every year at or after 15 weeks.

These numbers are not insignificant, and are human lives lost.

Did constitutional scholars support Roe?

In his response to Trump, Biden said the “vast majority” of constitutional scholars supported Roe. But even among those who supported legal abortion, there was widespread criticism of the decision. The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an ardent abortion supporter; however, even she wrote that law should be decided by elected representatives, and not “nine unelected judges.” Regarding Roe specifically, in 1985, she wrote:

Roe v. Wade sparked public opposition and academic criticism, in part, I believe, because the Court ventured too far in the change it ordered and presented an incomplete justification for its action. Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the court. …Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.

She added, “Roe ventured too far in the change it ordered and presented an incomplete justification for its action.”

It has been been roundly criticized as an example of judicial activism — again, even by those who support abortion — as opposed to a sound legal decision. After all, Justice Harry Blackmun could not cite any right to abortion in the Constitution at the time… because there was none. Roe is, and always has been, bad law.

Biden gets it right… sort of

One of the issues Biden criticized Trump on was the notion of states’ rights regarding abortion.

“The idea that states are able to do this is a little like saying, ‘We’re going to turn civil rights back to the states,'” Biden said. “Let each state have a different rule.”

Biden’s argument here, of course, was that abortion should be legal everywhere, so on that notion, he’s wrong.

But he is correct in arguing that a human right shouldn’t be protected only within certain states. After all, the main reason the Civil War was fought was because southern states wanted the federal government to give them freedom to make their own laws… laws that would allow the enslavement of human beings.

Unjust laws allowing human atrocities — like slavery and abortion — are always wrong, regardless of how many people support them.

So yes, Biden is right, in a way. Allowing some states to legalize abortion while others protect preborn lives is nonsensical. The right to life should be protected in every state. In fact, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already says this.

As Live Action News previously reported:

The 14th amendment was put into place after the Civil War to ensure that no person would be deprived of basic legal rights, such as life or liberty, without due process of law, nor deprive them of equal protection under the law.

By all interpretations of the 14th amendment — definitions from when it was ratified, historic state practices related to abortion, and the framer’s understanding of the amendment — preborn children are human beings with an inherent right to basic legal rights and equal protections under the law.

For example, at the time the 14th amendment was enacted, virtually every state understood that the legal phrase “person” included prenatal life, and viewed abortion as child murder. Typical objections to the inclusion of preborn children are often due to misunderstandings of the verbiage used in the amendment.

No limits on abortion

Bash asked Biden if he supported any restrictions at all on abortion, to which he loudly responded, “I support Roe v. Wade!”

After continuing to talk about abortion, Biden ultimately did not give any limits whatsoever which he supports on abortion — but if we were to assume he supports the precedents set by Roe, what would that mean?

Roe and its sister decision, Doe v. Bolton, essentially legalized abortion at any time, for any reason, with a vague definition of the word “health.” Doe’s text noted that an abortion may be done after viability, stating “… medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health….”

So by stating he supports Roe, and refusing to name any restrictions at all, it’s safe to infer that Biden favors unlimited abortion at any time, for any reason.

Why do women get late (or “late-term”) abortions?

Trump pointed out that women can have late abortions through the ninth month, to which Biden retorted that this is a rare occasion (we’ve already addressed how 10,000+ babies per year may be “rare” among a million abortions, but it isn’t insignificant). Then Biden went on to repeat a common pro-abortion talking point.

“That is simply not true,” Biden said of Roe allowing third-trimester abortions. “Roe v. Wade does not provide for that. That’s not the circumstance. Only if a woman’s life is in danger, she’s going to die, that’s the only circumstance where that can happen. But we are not for late-term abortion, period. Period, period.”

Trump rebutted this, correctly pointing out that Roe allowed abortion at any time, thanks to Doe‘s generic “health” descriptor.

But why do women actually seek out late abortions?

Pro-abortion activists frequently say these abortions only occur because a woman’s life is in danger, or because her baby has a life-threatening fetal anomaly. But this is a falsehood, meant to play on people’s empathy. Multiple studies have shown the opposite.

A 1988 Guttmacher study — a pro-abortion foundation which formerly served as the research arm for Planned Parenthood — found that just two percent (2%) of women who had abortions late in pregnancy did so because of a health problem with the baby. More than 20 years later, a 2013 study (also published by the Guttmacher Institute) said, “[D]ata suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment” (emphasis added).

Another study (published in 2022) by the pro-abortion group ANSIRH stated, “The reasons people need third-trimester abortions are not so different from why people need abortions before the third trimester… [T]he circumstances that lead to someone needing a third-trimester abortion have overlaps with the pathways to abortion at other gestations” (emphasis added).

That research also revealed:

There are thus many reasons — financial, logistical, and social — why third-trimester abortion care is exceptional compared to first-trimester abortion care. However, there is reason to believe that the circumstances that lead to someone needing a third-trimester abortion are not exceptional.

Several studies have highlighted the importance of the timing of pregnancy discovery, with later discovery associated with later presentation to abortion care.

Other research has identified how laws that complicate people’s ability to access abortion, including parental involvement laws and laws that contribute to the reduction of abortion clinics, are associated with later presentation to abortion care for patients.

Some women in the study reported that they didn’t know they were pregnant until later in pregnancy, and therefore, their abortions took place late in pregnancy. Health of the woman and/or the baby were not a factor in these cases.

Pro-abortion researcher Diana Greene Foster stated, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service, that abortions for fetal abnormalities “make up a small minority of later abortion.” In addition, a 2010 paper from Julia Steinberg of the pro-abortion Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health said, “Research suggests that the overwhelming majority of women having later abortions do so for reasons other than fetal anomaly (Drey et al., 2006; Finer et al., 2005, 2006; Foster et al., 2008).”

According to the abortion industry’s own research, no — the majority of late abortions are not due to health reasons for either mother or baby.

Editor’s Note, 6/28/24: This article has been updated with the latest later abortion numbers since original publication.

The DOJ put a pro-life grandmother in jail for protesting the killing of preborn children. Please take 30-seconds to TELL CONGRESS: STOP THE DOJ FROM TARGETING PRO-LIFE AMERICANS.

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