Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Dear Hillary Clinton: late-term abortions are *not* "almost always" medically necessary.

On September 20, 2015, HRC appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" and stated:
I think that the kind of late-term abortions that take place are because of medical necessity. And, therefore, I would hate to see the government interfering with that decision. took Clinton to task for this claim [emphasis added]:
A spokesman for Clinton’s campaign told us that she meant that many late-term abortions — not all or even most — are because of medical reasons. But that’s not what she said. Her statement left the impression that the majority, if not all, late-term abortions are medically necessary. The available evidence does not support that assertion.
I doubt Clinton actually did mean to say "many" instead of implying "all" or "most." The "always medically necessary" talking point regarding late-term abortions is ubiquitous. Today Clinton repeated the claim, this time even more explicitly:

(Click to enlarge)

I can't really fully blame the average pro-choice person for believing this idea when authoritative figures assert it--and the media repeats their assertions uncritically. Here's a CNN article from just a week or so ago interviewing OB-GYN Dr. Barbara Levy of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dr. Levy explains that her discussions about "late-term" abortion (a vague term) refer to abortions at 21 weeks or later. She goes on to assert:
Abortions later in pregnancy typically occur because of two general indications: lethal fetal anomalies or threats to the health of the mother.
If Dr. Levy had said something more vague such as "often" or "frequently," we could argue that she isn't trying to infer most or all late-term abortions are for medical reasons. But no, she states "typically," as in these are the representative cases which happen more often than not.

But, as we've said many times over, there is zero data to support this idea. The article (linked above) summarizes as much, and some of the more nuanced (read: honest) pro-choice people involved will readily agree. In a recent NY Times op-ed, the president for the Center of Health, Ethics, and Social Policy, Frances Kissling, states:

But it's not just that we don't know; it's that we have good reasons to believe it's not true. Guttmacher published a report explaining the common non-medical reasons women seek abortions at 21+ weeks. Arizona data suggest about 80% of their 21+ week abortions aren't for medical reasons. Pro-choice author Will Saletan outlined quite a bit of additional research suggesting women often get later abortions because they simply didn't realize they were pregnant earlier or weren't sure earlier that they wanted an abortion.

Every single time someone tells me that most or all late-term abortions are medically necessary, I ask for a citation. So far there have been zero. Heartbreaking anecdotes, yes. Data that would justify a quantifiable claim? No. Not ever.

But most people will keep believing it because (1) ACOG representatives and powerful politicians keep saying it and (2) it's what people would really rather believe anyway. The average pro-choice person doesn't want to face the fact that highly developed fetuses are being killed for non-medical reasons. That reality is just too uncomfortable.

If you do have data showing most 21+ week abortions are for medical necessity, please email us at

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