By James D. Agresti
In a so-called “fact check” of the vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, CNN reporter Caroline Kelly presents a barrage of disinformation that hides the realities of late-term abortion and the agenda of the Biden–Harris campaign.
During the debate, Pence stated that “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support taxpayer funding of abortion all the way up to the moment of birth, late-term abortion.” CNN, which begins each of its fact checks with the phrase “Facts First,” uses a flurry of falsehoods to undercut Pence’s factual statement.
The “Medical Term” Farce
CNN begins its fact check with an attempt to delegitimize the phrase “late-term” abortion by declaring it “is not a medical term.” This claim is flatly disproven by medical journals that have published articles with titles like:
- “Late-Term Abortion”
– Journal of the American Medical Association
- “Late-Term Elective Abortion and Susceptibility to Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms”
– Journal of Pregnancy
- “Late-Term Abortion for Fetal Anomaly: Vietnamese Women’s Experiences”
– Reproductive Health Matters
These medical journals and others, along with Planned Parenthood, abortion clinics, and media outlets have used the phrase “late-term” on numerous occasions to describe abortions that are performed from as few as 14 weeks into pregnancy to as many as 35 weeks or later.
More importantly, a vice-presidential debate is not a medical forum, CNN is not a medical periodical, and journalism guidelines bluntly instruct reporters to avoid medical jargon:
- The book English for Journalists emphasizes: “A common source of jargon is scientific, medical, government and legal handouts,” and “if you write for a newspaper or general magazine you should try to translate jargon into ordinary English whenever you can.”
- The New Oxford Guide to Writing states: “Jargon is technical language misused. Technical language, the precise diction demanded by any specialized trade or profession, is necessary when experts communicate with one another. It becomes jargon when it is applied outside the limits of technical discourse.”
- The book Writing for Journalists drives home the point: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
In violation of that journalism standard, journalists selectively use medical jargon in ways that obscure the facts that:
- each abortion destroys a biologically unique human life.
- the most common method of late-term abortion is dismemberment, a procedure that is illegal under the federal humane law for slaughtering livestock because it requires that animals be killed in a manner that renders them immediately unconscious.
- a late-term abortion at 22 weeks of pregnancy kills a human several weeks after he or she is capable of conscious “motor planning” (PLoS ONE), “now sleeps and wakes and hears sounds,” (American Medical Association Complete Medical Encyclopedia), and looks like this:
A common example of how media outlets use clinical jargon to sanitize the facts of abortion is by inconsistently and incorrectly using the word “fetus,” a medical term derived from a Latin word meaning “offspring” or “newly delivered.” Reporters frequently use this term to describe the object of an abortion, but they use the word “mother” to refer to a pregnant woman instead of the clinically accurate term, “gravida.”
And when the topic is not abortion, journalists often shun the word “fetus” and use “baby” or “child” in its place. In fact, the ombudsman of the Boston Globe once apologized to its readers because the paper used the term “fetus” to describe an unborn child who was killed when his mother was shot in the stomach. The apology was sparked by a flurry of criticism from readers who objected that the Globe “truly dehumanized” the “child” and that “every other news channel, TV, and newspaper called it a baby.”
Beyond their double standards, reporters often misuse the term “fetus,” revealing that they are out of their depth. Per Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, a fetus is “the unborn offspring in the postembryonic period, after major structures have been outlined, in humans from nine weeks after fertilization until birth.” Simply put, the word “fetus” applies from nine weeks after fertilization until birth. Yet, numerous major news organizations have misapplied this term to both before and after this period.
Late-Term Abortions Are Not Rare
According to CNN, “Doctors say abortions performed later in pregnancy are exceptionally rare.” In truth, late-term abortions are far more common than deaths that the media portrays as frequent occurrences like firearm homicides, young adult Covid-19 fatalities, and murders committed by police officers.
A 2013 paper in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health estimates that “more than 15,000” abortions are performed each year in the U.S. “at 21 weeks or later.” The authors note that this amounts to about 1% of all abortions, “but given an estimated 1.21 million abortions in the United States annually,” “later abortions” add up to “a substantial number of abortions.”
Hence, these “exceptionally rare” late-term abortions are more numerous than the:
- 12,000 murders per year committed with guns.
- 6,000 Covid-19-related deaths of people under the age of 45.
- 50 people per year who are executed under the death penalty.
- 7 police officers per year who are arrested for murder or manslaughter in an on-duty shooting, and the 1–2 officers who are ultimately convicted of such crimes.
Most Late-Term Abortions Are Not for Medical Reasons
CNN claims that “abortions performed later in pregnancy” are “often” because “of a fetal condition that can’t be treated or in cases of maternal health endangerment.” This is a common talking point of abortion proponents, but the disclosures of abortion providers reveal just the opposite:
- Martin Haskell, who is credited with inventing the partial-birth abortion procedure stated, “I’ll be quite frank: most of my abortions are elective in that 20-24 week range…. In my particular case, probably 20% are for genetic reasons. And the other 80% are purely elective.”
- Renee Chelian, president of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, said of late-term abortions, “The spin out of Washington was that it was only done for medical necessity, even though we knew it wasn’t so.”
- Doctors at two New Jersey abortion clinics independently revealed that each of their clinics was performing roughly 3,000 late-term abortions per year and nearly all of them were elective and not for medical reasons.
- Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, stated that late-term abortion are “primarily done on healthy women and healthy fetuses.”
The statements above are corroborated by a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute—a research organization whose “Guiding Principles” include support for legalized abortion. As summarized by the New York Times, the study found that “only 2 percent of abortions done after 16 weeks of pregnancy are done because of fetal abnormalities,” and such abortions are “most often performed to end healthy pregnancies because the woman arrived relatively late to her decision to abort.”
Biden and Harris Support Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Up Till Birth
According to CNN, Pence’s statement about Biden and Harris is “partially misleading and partially false” because “a Biden campaign official told CNN that Biden supports Roe v. Wade—the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, as amended by Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”
However, the plain words of those court decisions prove that Pence’s statement is entirely accurate. This is because these rulings prohibit states from banning abortions at any stage of pregnancy if any abortionist claims it is for “the health of the mother.”
Importantly, Roe defines threats to a mother’s health so broadly that they can include practically anything. Some eye-opening examples of what Roe deems to be hazardous to “health” are the work of “child care,” the “stigma of unwed motherhood,” and “the distress” of parenting “an unwanted child.”
In Casey, the Supreme Court ruled that “Roe’s essential holding be retained and reaffirmed,” including “a confirmation of the State’s power to restrict abortions after viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies endangering a woman’s life or health.”
Furthermore, Roe places all decisions about what constitutes “health” into the hands of abortionists. It does this by mandating that Roe “be read together” with Doe v. Bolton, a companion case that the Supreme Court issued on the same day. In Doe, the Court ruled that all abortion providers have full authority to decide if an abortion is necessary to protect a woman’s “health” based solely on their “best clinical judgment.”
Many states have passed laws that defy Roe and Casey, and Biden and Harris say that they will overturn all of them through a federal law that codifies Roe. They also support “repealing the Hyde Amendment,” which has restricted taxpayer funding of abortion for more than 40 years except in cases of rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is endangered.
CNN also alleges without evidence that “no candidate in either political party supports abortion ‘up to the moment of birth’,” but the fact is that Democrats blocked a bill in 2019 that would have required healthcare providers to “preserve the life and health” of children who are aborted and born alive. Harris was among the 42 Democrats who filibustered this bill in the Senate.
During the vice presidential debate, Mike Pence accurately and straightforwardly described the positions of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on late-term abortions, noting that they support such abortions up to birth and want them funded by taxpayers.
Yet, CNN deceitfully claimed his statement is misleading in an article that it titled “Pence Echoes Trump’s False Claims at Vice Presidential Debate.” Furthermore, CNN laced its “fact check” with other canards that hide the harsh realities of late-term abortion and the fact that they are performed more than 10,000 times per year on healthy, conscious humans with healthy mothers.
James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a think tank dedicated to publishing rigorously documented facts about public policy issues.
Just Facts is a non-profit institute dedicated to publishing comprehensive, straightforward, and rigorously documented facts about public policy issues. To accomplish this with objectivity and excellence, we use exacting Standards of Credibility to determine what constitutes a fact and what does not. The vision of Just Facts is to equip people with facts that empower them to make truly informed decisions about important matters. This requires proven facts that accurately and fully convey reality—not pseudo-facts, half-truths, or talking points.