NPR vs. Mike Pence on late-term abortion: Nothing to see here?

Ask some people about Roe v. Wade, and you get a blank stare.  The card for a light-heavyweight match?  The ignorance can be almost that deep.

It isn't ignorance, though, but a nothing-to-see-here casualness that comes through a certain type of commentary about late-stage abortion.  Let's take the example of NPR's "fact-checking" of Vice President Mike Pence during the Republican National Convention.

Here's what NPR calls one of Pence's "inaccurate or questionable claims": "Joe Biden, he supports taxpayer funding of abortions, right up to the moment of birth."

Here, in part, is NPR's rejoinder: "Biden has not explicitly expressed support for late-term abortions.  He wants to codify Roe v. Wade and reup federal funding for Planned Parenthood."

This is risible.  You may think Roe the deliverance of women.  You may think Roe a curse upon the land.  But you can't be thinking at all if you don't recognize that to codify Roe is to support the foundation of late-term abortions.

Roe permits no restriction on abortion to protect the unborn until about 24 weeks into a pregnancy, a proximate marker for fetal viability, after which an abortion may be done to protect the life or health of the mother.  The health exception could hardly be wider than as set out by Doe v. Bolton, the companion decision to Roe written by the same justice, Harry Blackmun, and issued the same day, Jan. 22, 1973.  Doe, Blackmun stated, considers "all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age — relevant to the well-being of the patient."

It is Roe and ensuing decisions of the Supreme Court that have made the U.S. something of an outlier.  Consider Europe.  Across most of the Continent and Scandanavia, restrictions on abortion, some flexible, some not, start ahead of 24 weeks and often at 12 to 14 weeks.  Only in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands is the abortion regime comparable to that in the U.S.

Oh, but NPR gives this assurance: "only about 1% of abortion occurs after 21 weeks of pregnancy."  This flippancy doesn't survive a little arithmetic.  The Guttmacher Institute, a spin-off of Planned Parenthood, estimates that abortions in the U.S. in 2017 numbered 862,320.  One percent of that figure works out to a rate of just about one every hour around the clock every day.

So what is happening every hour? Here is Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) and providing, as abridged below, about as understated a description of a second-trimester "standard D&E" as is possible:

The process of evacuating the fetus piece by piece continues until it has been completely removed.  A doctor may make 10 to 15 passes with the forceps to evacuate the fetus in its entirety, though sometimes removal is completed with fewer passes[.] ... The doctor examines the different parts to ensure that the entire fetal body has been removed.

Cases vary, but "choice," in any event, the woman has.  "Choice" isn't what Joe Biden is offering taxpayers — not when he disdains the Hyde amendment intended to prevent federal monies from supporting abortion.  Absent Hyde, every taxpayer becomes a coerced financier of abortion at any stage of pregnancy for any reason.

Let's touch on polling data.  NPR does.  The first thing to know is that many people don't have much to say about Roe.  A poll by the Pew Research Center in 2013 — may we assume no leaps in awareness since then? — found that 37 percent of respondents didn't know that Roe has to do with abortion, though I can't truly say a fight card was among the wrong guesses.  They were school desegregation, the death penalty, and environmental protection.

Now here's NPR: "[a]s of 2019, public support for legal abortion remains at the highest level witnessed since the Pew Research Center began polling on the issue two decades ago.  A majority of Americans (61%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases."  That's true.  The previous high was 60 percent in 1995.  The lowest over those two decades was 47% in 2009.

Any answer depends on the question.  Six times since 1996, most recently in 2018, Gallup has found national majorities supporting "generally legal" abortion within the first three months of pregnancy and opposing it later.

Also from Gallup, this year: "Unlike other social attitudes in the U.S. — such as on gay marriage [sic], the legalization of marijuana, and even polygamy — Americans' views on the legality of abortion are not evolving but staying roughly where they have been for nearly a half-century."

Mike Pence knows that.  Surely NPR does, too, but would rather not.

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