One of the reasons we as a nation cannot sensibly discuss the abortion issue is that most people don’t know what the bleep they are talking about. Most American adults seem to know next to nothing about the physiological realities of pregnancy and gestation. They know there is sex at one end of the process and a baby at the other, but what goes on in between is, um, hazy.
Today there’s much hysteria coming from both Left and Right about some statements made by Barack Obama over abortion. Since what he said pretty much squares with my own opinion going way back, I’m having a hard time seeing the Big Bleeping Deal. However, when people like Jeff Fecke, who is normally fairly sensible, makes statements like “So Obama went and said third-trimester abortions shouldn’t have legal protection yesterday,” then I despair of ever having a sensible conversation with ANYBODY on this issue.
Obama essentially said he agreed with the Roe v. Wade guidelines, with one exception. That is, while Roe v. Wade allows for a physical and mental health exception to third-trimester abortion bans, Obama said maybe there shouldn’t be an exception for “mental distress.” And that’s it. But to read some people you’d think Obama just joined the Right to Life movement.
But here goes … Quoting Obama from an interview in Relevant Magazine:
Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?
Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother.
Now we have to stop and define “late-term abortion.” What is “late-term”? During their long fight against intact D&E abortions, the Fetus People conflated intact D&E with “late-term abortion,” even though D&E is mostly a second trimester procedure, which in my book is MID-term. In fact, to a lot of Fetus People and even normal people, “late-term abortion” is a synonym for what the Fetus People call “partial-birth abortion,” even though there are other procedures that can be used to terminate a second- or third-trimester pregnancy.
So our first source of confusion is, exactly what does Obama mean by “late-term abortion”? When I use the phrase I mean third-trimester abortion, regardless of the method used. Since the interviewer had just mentioned third-trimester abortion, I’m going to assume that’s what Obama meant by it.
If so, what Obama said basically confirms the Roe v. Wade decision. Roe v. Wade permits states to ban third-trimester abortions, as long as there’s a “life and health” exception made for the mother. As I wrote in a couple of posts last year (“Late-Term Confusion” and “More Late-Term Confusion“), most states have had such bans on the books for a long time, and NARAL has been OK with this, because it conforms to Roe v. Wade guidelines.
And I suppose I had better explain trimesters, because based on comments flying around the web today I’m the only bleeping woman on the planet who has ever been pregnant and knows what trimesters are. A pregnancy is nine months long, right? Stages of pregnancy are divided into three three-month periods. Months 1-3 are the first trimester, months 4-6 are the second trimester, and months 7-9 are the third trimester. There are medical and physiological reasons these three stages are distinctive; they are not just arbitrary divisions the Supreme Court thought up. I will get into more of these distinctions later.
Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.
This is a departure from Roe v. Wade, because Roe v. Wade allows for a mental health exception as well as a physical health exception in third-trimester abortions. The question in my mind is whether a third-trimester abortion might be helpful for a woman experiencing emotional or psychiatric stress. My thoughts:
There are many reasons third-trimester abortions are different from first- and second-trimester abortions. One big difference is that once the pregnancy has entered the third trimester there’s a likelihood the fetus will be viable, meaning it can survive outside the womb. Most of the time if a third-trimester pregnancy has to be terminated because of the mother’s health, every effort will be made to save the baby. It is unusual, although not unheard of, for the baby to have to be sacrificed to save the mother.
On the other hand, until very late in the second trimester there is zero possibility a fetus will survive outside the womb. From about the last week of the second trimester until about the end of the seventh month — well into the third trimester — survivability is iffy, but possible. After that the odds the baby will survive improve considerably. So are we straight on this point?
The problem with terminating a third-trimester pregnancy because the mother is emotionally or psychologically stressed is that you’re probably going to end up with a live infant, but one with more medical problems than it would have had if the pregnancy had gone full term. And this could cause the woman more stress in the long run. This is not sensible.
Regarding “mental distress” — as someone with intimate experience with severe postpartum depression, I appreciate mental distress as well as anyone. But by the third trimester it’s too late to avoid the physiological effects of pregnancy and childbirth, and if we’re talking about a purely psychiatric condition I suspect, medically, it would be extremely unusual for termination of pregnancy to be necessary or even helpful.
On the other hand, if it is discovered that the fetus has an anomaly that is “incompatible with life,” as the med journal articles put it — meaning there is no way the fetus will survive more than a few hours after birth — and the mother wants to terminate rather than live with the heartbreak, I say let her terminate. That’s a point that needs to be clarified.
Also, please note: In the case of elective abortion — meaning, IMO, a woman aborts because she doesn’t want to go through with the pregnancy — by the time you hit the beginning of the third trimester, you’re too late. You are as pregnant as anyone ever was. You’ve probably put on most of your pregnancy weight. You’ve gone through all the physiological and hormonal changes. Your innie is now an outie. And abortion at that point is a big bleeping deal medical procedure every bit as difficult as childbirth itself.
I’m explaining this because remarkable numbers of people don’t seem to understand why defending a right to elective abortion in the third trimester is insane. No woman in her right mind willingly carries a pregnancy that far and then decides to abort. Doctors won’t perform such abortions, anyway. Even Roe v. Wade permits states to ban third-trimester elective abortions.
And NARAL, please note, is fine with states banning third-trimester abortions as long as the “life and health” exception provided by Roe v. Wade is included in the ban. Again, most states have had such bans on the books for a long time.
However, I believed back in the 1970s that NARAL made a big mistake by not supporting some clear legal gestational limits for elective abortion based on the Roe v. Wade guidelines. Without such clear limits, the Fetus People have been able to market many urban legends about women in their ninth month of pregnancy suddenly deciding to “kill their babies” and terminate a healthy pregnancy. Most states eventually adopted gestational limits, but people are so confused about what’s legal and what isn’t that the urban legends seem credible.
Well, back to Obama —
The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.
The various “born-alive” bills are based on the common Fetus People fantasy that infants aborted in the second trimester might live if only they had some medical care. They won’t, until possibly the very last week of the second trimester. Until then, any infant born by any means, gentle or otherwise, will die.
Ever since that time, emails have been sent out suggesting that, somehow, I would be in favor of letting an infant die in a hospital because of this particular vote. That’s not a fair characterization, and that’s not an honest characterization. It defies common sense to think that a hospital wouldn’t provide life-saving treatment to an infant that was alive and had a chance of survival.
Of course it defies common sense, and I very much doubt it ever happens, law or no law.
So that’s what Obama said, and according to RedState Obama is “rejecting at least some of the extremism of NARAL, Emily’s List, and other radical abortion organizations.” The only place where Obama and NARAL actually may part company is on the issue of mental distress, and in that case I might lean in Obama’s direction myself, as I said.
And for the record, I support elective abortion for any reason until about 20 weeks’ gestation, and all data for years have shown us that nearly all elective abortions in the U.S. are performed by about 15 weeks’ gestation.