In New York and Virginia, Democratic state governments are working to loosen restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy, far past the stages at which fetuses can survive after birth. The controversy over this expansion of abortion rights presents an opportunity for the anti-abortion movement to make the point that every abortion—no matter when it is performed—ends a human life.
Already, the Democratic Party platform states that it “will protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion” and enumerates no limits on that right. The party also favors removing federal limits on taxpayer funding for abortion procedures. The party’s standard-bearers are in lockstep on this point. During a presidential debate in 2016, Hillary Clinton repeatedly defended her opposition to a late-term abortion ban, claiming that it had not taken into account “the life and the health of the mother.” Her primary challenger Bernie Sanders declined to name any abortion restrictions he would support. Most of the Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination have already backed federal legislation that would override most state restrictions on third-trimester abortion.
Given the Democratic Party’s view of abortion rights, the legislation in both New York and Virginia expanding abortion access well into viability—all the way through the end of the third trimester—is best understood as a reaction to its palpable fear that President Donald Trump will reshape the courts to oppose modern abortion jurisprudence. At present, the Supreme Court’s decisions allow judges across the country to block abortion restrictions using nebulous standards, such as whether they impose a “substantial burden” on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. These Democratic bills are an effort to shore up that existing framework and ensure that abortion rights remain available even late in pregnancy, no matter what happens to the makeup of federal courts.