This legislative term, Democrats in a number of statehouses have proposed legislation to expand abortion access. New York passed the Reproductive Health Act, which affirms every individual’s “fundamental right … to have an abortion,” gives licensed professionals other than doctors the right to perform the procedures, and allows for abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy if it “is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
Trump condemned Democrats on Tuesday for passing this bill. “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world,” he said.
Another recent bill in Virginia would have eased restrictions on third-trimester pregnancies in cases of potential harm to a woman’s mental or physical health. When a Republican lawmaker asked the sponsor of the bill, Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran, whether a woman could request an abortion as she was dilating and about to give birth, Tran cringed, and said yes. Meanwhile, Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, explained in a radio interview that, under this bill, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
A spokesperson for the governor later told Vox that the governor had “absolutely not” been referring to the euthanasia of a baby born after an unsuccessful abortion. “The governor’s comments focused on the tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor,” the spokesperson said.
Despite this clarification, some critics, including Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, accused him of supporting infanticide. The bill failed.
[Alexandra DeSanctis: Democrats overplay their hand on abortion]
Trump condemned Northam in his State of the Union address. “We had the case of the governor of Virginia, where he stated he would execute a baby after birth,” the president said.
“I think [the Virginia legislation] shocked the conscience of a lot of people,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America. “I think it’s going to serve as a wake-up call for a lot of people who have been on the fence.” Trump, who tweeted last week that “Democrats are becoming the Party of late term abortion, high taxes, Open Borders, and Crime!,” seems eager to use the backlash to Democratic legislation to his advantage. “Republicans have a golden opportunity to make this a golden issue,” said Charlie Camosy, an associate professor at Fordham University who studies the ethics of abortion.
Trump’s focus on late-term abortions is strategic: It’s one of the most fraught areas of abortion policy, and public opinion about the procedure is mixed. While roughly two-thirds of Americans said in a Gallup poll this summer that they oppose overturning the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which established basic abortion rights, public opinion varies on abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy, depending on the reason for the procedure. Roughly 1 percent of abortions take place after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet these kinds of procedures have dominated recent policy fights at the state and federal level. “It’s purposeful,” said Melissa Murray, a law professor at NYU. Abortion opponents “know it will have a chilling effect on those who want to take a reasonable position that acknowledges women’s right to control their reproductive capacity … No one talks about the fact that this is such a small minority of cases.”