April 10, 2024

After months if not years of mixed messages, former President Donald Trump shared an abortion position that leaves policy to the states and includes some exceptions, rather than backing a national abortion limit.

In an April 8 video released on Truth Social, Trump tried to strike a pragmatic tone for a party that has suffered electoral setbacks over abortion, saying he was proud to have nominated three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who decided to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Then he turned the issue back on Democrats, claiming that they were the “radical” party on abortion.

“They support abortion up to and even beyond the ninth month,” Trump said. “The concept of having an abortion in the later months, and even execution after birth. And that’s exactly what it is. The baby is born, the baby is executed after birth is unacceptable, and almost everyone agrees with that.”

We have rated similar statements from Trump and other Republican leaders False. Democrats aren’t calling for the killing of infants after birth. Willfully ending a newborn’s life is illegal in every U.S. state.

Reproductive health experts told us Trump’s claim misleads by equating medical interventions for fetal abnormalities in the third trimester with someone deciding after birth that they no longer want a baby.

“Using the word ‘execute’ heightens the rhetoric here, but even if he said ‘killing’ it doesn’t matter,” said Lois Shepard, a University of Virginia law and biomedical ethics professor who has authored several books about end of life care. “Abortion providers do not do this, doctors do not do this, no politicians that I know of support this — it’s a made up issue.”

Trump’s use of “execution” “goes back to a much earlier era, right after Roe, when abortion methods were more primitive,” said Mary Ziegler, an abortion historian and law professor at University of California, Davis. “Occasionally there were live births and doctors would be prosecuted.”

Trump’s wording describes a position Democrats do not hold.

“The language of ‘execution’ is ignorant, deceptive, inappropriate and is being used only to provoke outrage when in fact it is mercy and compassion that drives post-abortion care of horribly malformed children,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Medical Center.

PolitiFact reached out to the Trump campaign but did not hear back.

Federal laws require care for newborns

Democrats prefer wider access to abortion throughout pregnancy. President Joe Biden, for example, pledged to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law before it was overturned; it protected the right to an abortion until the fetus was viable outside of the womb, at about 24 weeks of gestation.

Lawmakers who have made similar claims have pointed to legislation requiring infants to receive medical care after attempted abortions.

Democrats have largely not supported these bills, saying they would be redundant under current law.

The number of cases these laws might cover is small, and typically involve lethal fetal conditions or anomalies that allow for little or no prospect for long-term survival.

Legal experts pointed to specific federal laws that apply to newborns:

  • The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, passed in 1974 and since revised, makes certain types of federal funding for states conditional on their adopting policies to prevent improper withholding of treatment from newborns, including those with disabilities.
  • The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 established that federal legal protections that applied to “persons” also covered children born at any stage of development, including after an attempted abortion.

State laws are the primary source of protection against active or negligent killing of infants born after attempted abortions, legal experts said.

“People have been looking for evidence for decades of being born alive after abortions and there aren’t any to my knowledge, and that’s not particularly surprising,” Ziegler said. “The procedures most doctors would use later in pregnancy today would make it impossible to result in a live birth.”

A 2022 California law aims to protect parents from prosecution when they lose a baby after delivery because of a pregnancy-related complication, including miscarriages and stillbirths.

How and why some abortions happen later in pregnancy

Abortions later in pregnancy, typically in the third trimester, are rare and often happen because of severe fetal anomalies or health risks to the mother. They do not involve doctors wantonly killing babies after birth.

Some families choose palliative care when they learn during pregnancy that the fetus has a genetic or structural condition that would likely result in the baby surviving only minutes or days after delivery. These problems can sometimes surface by the end of the first trimester, but may not be discovered until halfway through the pregnancy, or later.

Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN who provides reproductive health care, including abortions, said patients have sought abortions in the third trimester after receiving a grim fetal diagnosis. She gave an example of a baby who didn’t develop a brain and wouldn’t survive after birth and patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions that require delivery.

“In these situations, I counsel my patients about the options, and in many situations, based on my patient’s wishes, proceed with an induction of labor or (cesarean)-section that aims to protect both the patient and the baby,” Verma told us in July.

Palliative care can accompany life-prolonging treatment, but some patients choose not to pursue these treatments because they are often invasive, complex or have uncertain outcomes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says on its website.

“Ultimately, the parent or parents, in consultation with their physician, decide which course of perinatal palliative care to pursue,” the organization said. “At no point in the course of delivering a newborn with life-limiting conditions and subsequently providing palliative care does the obstetrician–gynecologist end the life of the newborn receiving palliative care.”

The vast majority of abortions in the U.S., over 90%, occur in the first trimester, or before 13 weeks. About 1% take place after 21 weeks, and far less than 1% occur in the third trimester.

Our ruling

Trump claimed that Democrats support abortion measures that result in the “execution” of babies “after birth.”

This is grossly inaccurate. Rather than discuss Democratic support for broad abortion access throughout pregnancy, Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric exaggerates by saying the party supports killing an unwanted infant after birth. This would be infanticide and is illegal in every state.

Situations resulting in a fetal death in the third trimester are rare, and involve emergencies such as fetal anomalies or life-threatening medical emergencies affecting the mother. Babies that are delivered are not killed.

We rate this claim False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. See the sources for this fact check here.

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Louis Jacobson has been with PolitiFact since 2009, currently as senior correspondent. Previously, he served as deputy editor of Roll Call and as founding editor…
Louis Jacobson
Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in New York. Previously, she reported for the Bradenton Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. She is…
Samantha Putterman

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