Washington Post fact checker misleads readers on late-term abortions

Politifact, abortion survivors

Both before and since the fall of Roe v. Wade, the abortion industry and its political allies have consistently advocated for abortion to be codified into federal law. Yet a purported “fact-check” from the Washington Post gets the facts wrong — on a number of levels.

The Women’s Health Protection Act

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact-checker, begins by pointing out pro-life anger towards the extreme Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA).

“Republicans defend their allegations by pointing to votes these candidates cast for the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would have restored the right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case recently overturned by the Supreme Court. The legislation includes exceptions for the health of the mother, which Republicans describe as a loophole that puts no limit on when an abortion can take place,” he wrote. “But the GOP attacks are disingenuous at best. They imply that late-term abortions are common — and that they are routinely accepted by Democrats.”

The WHPA would have done much more than simply codify Roe. Because of this, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a different bill that would codify Roe without the additional trappings of the WHPA. The WHPA would have gone significantly further, allowing abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, up until the moment of birth, for any reason (any “health” allowance is indeed broad, just as Doe v. Bolton considered even financial, familial, and emotional “health” as “health” reasons for abortion). It also eliminates all state-level protections for preborn children, and mandates that states cannot pass bans on abortion prior to “viability” — a meaningless and arbitrary term loosely meaning the time at which a child is thought to be able to survive outside the womb. This points is currently set at about 24 weeks gestation, though with medical advancements, premature children are surviving younger and younger, making viability a meaningless standard. One abortionist even admitted that viability can mean whatever an abortionist wants it to mean.

Additionally, conscience protections under WHPA would be destroyed, meaning health care professionals could potentially be forced to participate in committing abortions. Any standards currently mandated for abortion facilities would have been eliminated, and there would be virtually no protections in place against any abortionists or abortion procedures. This includes ultrasounds, which are a medically necessary part of the abortion process.

Furthermore, the WHPA would have allowed federal taxpayer-funded abortion.

Late-term abortion

Kessler moves on to argue that late-term abortions rarely happen — which has nothing to do with the reasons why they happen.

“The reality, according to federal and state data, is that abortions past the point of viability are extremely rare. When they do happen, they often involve painful, emotional and even moral decisions,” he said, adding, “Federal data does not break down when abortions take place after 21 weeks — and many states do not as well. But an examination of state data shows most of those late-term abortions come within the 22nd or 23rd week, when viability outside the womb is not assured. That would place almost all abortions before or within the second trimester.”

It is true that a significantly higher number of abortions are committed within the first trimester than in the second or third trimesters. But the rarity of an event does not make it more acceptable — Kessler does, indeed, point out, many of these abortions take place when it is possible for the preborn child to survive outside of the womb.

According to the CDC’s 2019 Abortion Surveillance Report, the most recent year for which data is available, 1.1% of all abortions were committed after 21 weeks of pregnancy. If you include the second trimester, or after 14 weeks of pregnancy, the number rises to 8% of all abortions.

While 1.1% or even 8% might seem like small numbers, they aren’t. The CDC reports 398,505 abortions committed in 2019. 1.1% of that number equals 4,383 abortions committed after 21 weeks of pregnancy; 8% equals 31,880. Of course, states are not required to report their data to the CDC — and numerous states, like California and Maryland, do not. Others, like New Jersey, did not have reporting requirements in place, causing the CDC warn that its data may not be accurate. Essentially, this means the true number of abortions — regardless of gestational age — is almost certainly higher. Using the Guttmacher Institute’s numbers (which are collected directly from abortion providers), 930,160 abortions were committed in 2020. If the CDC’s percentages hold true with 1.1% of abortions occurring after 21 weeks, that equates to an estimate of more than 10,000 human lives per year, and 8% occurring after 14 weeks equates to an estimate of more than 74,000 human lives per year.

Comparatively, the CDC reported 24,576 murders for the year 2020 in the United States, among a population of over 329 million Americans. The percentage of murders would be much lower than that of late term abortions by comparison, but no one would argue that makes the number insignificant or unimportant.

Why women get late-term abortions

To debunk the notion of women needing late-term abortions for non-medical reasons, Kessler turned to… a late-term abortionist. Warren Hern is an 83-year-old abortionist in Colorado who rakes in as much as $25,000 per abortion — a notable fact Kessler failed to include. After all, Hern’s livelihood relies upon late-term abortion being seen as appropriate and acceptable. He has a vested interest in presenting it in a positive light. This conflict of interest should have been pointed out.

Nevertheless, Hern painted a picture of compassionate abortion, with women only undergoing these procedures out of necessity.

“In an average week at my office, 25 to 50 percent of the patients have some serious, catastrophic fetal abnormality, and there are some weeks in which this is true for 100 percent of the patients,” Hern said. “These are uniformly desired pregnancies, and the patients are generally grief-stricken to be ending the pregnancy.”

Kessler added, “Most of the others have severe medical conditions, such as pregnancy-related high blood pressure, severe hypertension or multiple sclerosis, so an abortion will reduce the woman’s risk of death.”

Research, unfortunately for Kessler, does not support these claims.

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

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.” And 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).”

Furthermore, it is not the standard of care to commit an abortion if the mother is experiencing a health emergency.

A late-term abortion can take several days to complete, and in an emergency situation, time is of the essence. What would or should happen in reality is an emergency induction or c-section; the child may be too premature to survive, but the child is not intentionally killed during an often multi-day process while the abortionist — like Hern — rakes in tens of thousands of dollars.

The facts about late-term abortion are not as rosy as abortion advocates would like people to assume; but it’s no secret as to why these lies proliferate. Polling has frequently shown that Americans overwhelmingly oppose abortion in the second and third trimesters. What better way to change those minds than with false information designed to exploit people’s compassion?

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