Facts Are Stubborn Things: Abortion Edition

In a recent speech, President Trump made claims about abortion that are manifestly untrue but which his pro-life supporters continue to believe.

President Trump made waves last week when he falsely claimed in a speech to supporters that doctors and women were effectively, and routinely, murdering infants after they were born. This. of course, is a reference to the ongoing debate over abortion in general and so-called “late-term” abortions in particular. As experts have pointed out numerous times, such abortions are exceedingly rare and typically carried out in situations where the fetus would not survive outside the womb, was severely deformed to the extent that it most likely would die soon after birth, and where continuing with the pregnancy would be a threat to the life and health of the mother.

In this same regard, Kevin Drum looks at the raw data and finds what we already knew. that so-called “late-term” abortions account for an exceedingly small portion of the number of abortions performed in a given year:

Since it’s been in the news lately, this chart shows our best estimates of when abortions are performed in the US. According to the CDC, 91 percent of all abortions are performed in the first trimester and 98.7 percent of abortions are performed during the first 20 weeks. Using state data, it’s possible to roughly estimate the percentage of abortions performed in weeks 21-30. Above that, no records are kept, but the numbers are so tiny that they register as 0.00 percent.

Here’s the chart in question:

As these figures show, fully 83% of abortions in the United State are performed within the first ten weeks or so of pregnancy. At this stage, the developing embryo, which eventually becomes a fetus, is in the early stages of development, does not have a discernible heartbeat or brain patterns, and most assuredly could not live outside the womb and it’s likely that any technology that would allow that to happen is far in the future assuming it can ever actually be developed. This largely runs counter to the claims of the pro-life movement, which focuses on the period after a heartbeat has developed (which usually happens around 20 weeks) or when the developing fetus reaches a point where it could possibly survive outside the womb, which generally is accepted at being around the 22nd to 24th week of pregnancy, although even at this stage viability is by no means certain. In any case, the number of abortions that actually take place after the 22nd week amounts to roughly 2.08% of all abortions and the number that are performed closer to birth is so small that they are basically statistically irrelevant.

All of this puts the lie to the claim that “late-term” abortion is even close to being the problem that it is. not to mention the fact that it does not take place under the circumstances that President Trump claimed in his speech. The fact that propaganda like this continues to spread notwithstanding the facts, and that the President spreads those lies so brazenly, is yet another example of how a disdain for the truth can have a huge impact on a political debate.

FILED UNDER: Open Forum, Science & Technology, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Teve says:

    Docs and nurses and patients etc have been posting twitter threads about what these tragic births are really like and they’re heartbreaking and anybody who repeats Trump’s lies is a piece of shit.

    Julia Pulver, RN

    Verified account

    Apr 27
    More Julia Pulver, RN Retweeted Amee Vanderpool
    Thread: As a NICU nurse, I served on the “Bereavement Team.” We were a special team of Nurses tough enough to help new parents go through the worst day of their lives. Parents of babies who had fought so hard for their tiny little lives and weren’t going to make it… 1/

    one of the milder threads.

  2. Todd says:

    Most of the “pro-life” people I know who say they believe this sort of lie about late term abortion/”infanticide” are also the same ones who when asked about actual living children being separated from their parents and locked in cages at the border just shrug and say “well, the parents shouldn’t have brought them here”.

    It’s infuriating.

    Pro life my ass.

  3. Todd says:

    @Teve: I read and retweeted that thread a couple of days ago. It’s monstrous the pain that these anti-abortion activists add to what is already the most tragic day in lives of these parents who lose their babies shortly after birth.

  4. Mikey says:


    Pro life my ass.

    Because it’s not about life, it’s about control.

  5. Teve says:

    That Vox link in Doug’s OP under the word ‘experts’ is essential reading.

  6. JKB says:

    But then when a state passes a post-20 week abortion ban, with medical life of mother exceptions, the abortion advocates run riot screaming about repealing Roe v Wade (even though that is not the controlling precedent). Most Americans are against “late-term” abortions, but the abortion advocates throw their support behind the professors who throw out the abortion in first year of life ideas.

    Most abortions are had by poor women of color. Of them, the largest number and highest per captia is poor Black women. Long ago, I read an article that claimed that most elective late term abortions were to Black women who couldn’t get the money for an abortion earlier in the pregnancy. But a pro-abortion solution to that would be the wealthy Planned Parenthood and other providers developing payment plans for the cheaper and safer early term abortions for these women instead of demanding cash up front. Of course, this would damage Planned Parenthood’s lucrative parting out of aborted late-term babies revenue stream.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    a) You flat-out, straight-up lied about Trump’s tax return.
    b) Now you’re lying some more. If you cannot support your position without deliberately lying and uttering malicious bullshit like the above, the explanation is obvious: your ideas are not rationally defensible. You require lies.

  8. mattbernius says:


    abortion advocates throw their support behind the professors who throw out the abortion in first year of life ideas.

    Call – citation please because I have no idea what the heck this means.

  9. SenyorDave says:

    My brother and SIL are both doctors. My SIL is a rheumatologist and has had patients who needed to get a late term abortion. For these women this was a horrible experience. They were not getting late term abortions for convenience. In these cases my SIL was in the room when the procedure was done, and she said it is done in the most humane manner they can. For these women this ends up being literally the worst day of their lives. My SIL has had to tell many patients they were going to die, and she said it is easier to tell patients they are going to die than to tell a woman who is seven months pregnant that she need to have an abortion. My brother is a pulmonologist so he has had only two instances where a patient need to get a late term abortion, both being women who first were diagnosed with major pulmonary issues late in their pregnancy that made continuing the pregnancy a risk to their survival. My brother has told many thousands of patients they were going to die (often of lung cancer, which is a very unpleasant way to go), and he said nothing compared to telling those women they needed to end their pregnancy. Trump is a stupid, evil shit who wouldn’t care even if he understand the lie he is peddling. All he knows is it gets a great response from his crowds.

  10. Mikey says:


    Of course, this would damage Planned Parenthood’s lucrative parting out of aborted late-term babies revenue stream.

    Oh, fuck off with this stupid bullshit.

  11. MarkedMan says:


    citation please

    All due respect but asking a Trumper for a citation is a category error. It’s like asking Christopher Lloyd how a flux capacitor works.

  12. Lynn says:

    Just for reference … this 1971 resolution was reaffirmed in 1974.

    “Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother’


  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    but the abortion advocates throw their support behind the professors who throw out the abortion in first year of life ideas.

    WTF are you talking about, Willis?

  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    Most abortions are had by poor women of color.

    So you’re saying Republicans years of racism, and treating people of color as second class citizens with fewer opportunities to advance, has had an effect?
    Got it.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Pro life my ass.

    Indeed…even before the abomination of locking immigrant children in cages, so many “pro-life” people seemed to care more about what was in the womb rather than actual children with real needs…it’s pathetic…

    @Lynn: That’s a lot more sensible than the deranged shit we hear from that crowd now…I wonder when the change occured and who was responsible for it…

  16. Hal_10000 says:

    But then when a state passes a post-20 week abortion ban, with medical life of mother exceptions, the abortion advocates run riot screaming about repealing Roe v Wade

    There is one piece of sense in this otherwise nonsensical word salad. The GOP’s proposed 20-week bans would allow 97.8% of abortions (more if you have exceptions for fetal defect, etc.). Such bans have the support of 70% of the American public and about equal percent of American women (indeed, abortion polling shows little difference between the sexes). I do think, even as a pro-choicer, it’s disingenuous to portray this as an “extreme” position. It is right in the mainstream.

  17. Teve says:

    @An Interested Party: The religious right, moral majority etcetera formed in the 50s and 60s in opposition to desegregation. They started private schools so they could keep black people out and so forth. By the early-to-mid seventies they realized they had lost the war, but they already had a taste of political power from the organizing. In the mid/late seventies they hit on abortion as their new cause.

  18. Lynn says:

    @An Interested Party: “I wonder when the change occured and who was responsible for it…”

    There’s this view:

    “Although evangelicals were mostly silent on abortion after Roe v. Wade, they were not silent on other political issues. Paul Weyrich, one of the evangelical right’s most influential founders, recalls that the movement initially emerged to defend racially segregated Christian schools from government intrusion:”

    “Only after the movement was underway did it begin advocacy on abortion. It did so, in large part, based on highly dubious arguments advanced by the popular writer Francis Schaeffer.

    Schaeffer held a master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary (though he went by “Dr. Schaeffer”) and argued, in 1979’s Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (co-written with the surgeon C. Everrett Koop, and offered as both book and film series), that legalized abortion represented an abandonment of the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. He is introduced in the film as “one of the world’s most respected thinkers”—a generous title given that Schaeffer plays loose with history, neglecting to mention that abortion was in fact legal when the nation was founded.

    Schaeffer and Koop advance the argument that if evangelicals don’t mobilize to stop abortion, infanticide and involuntary euthanasia will soon become widespread.”


  19. Lynn says:

    As an aside — I love it when people talk about the “Judeo-Christian heritage” of the US, given tht Jews were actually banned from some colonies, and were not allowed to vote in others.

  20. Hal_10000 says:


    Even as a pro-choicer, I dislike this narrative that the pro-life movement was some kind of sinister creation. There were people who objected immediately. It took a while for people to realize just how big this was going to become when we were getting a million abortions a year. And it often takes a while for the implications of a policy or SCOTUS decision to sink in. This is like saying, “Well, no one objected to the Iraq War right away!” which ignores that a) lots did; b) it took a while for the disastrous consequence to become apparent.

    I really dislike the ongoing effort to delegitimize the pro-life side. It’s not engaging in good faith at all.

  21. mattbernius says:

    In terms of legislative restriction on abortion, I many pro-choice organizations reach a point not dissimilar to where the NRA hits on gun control.

    There is a perception — perhaps not entirely incorrectly — that any move towards restriction starts an inevitable slow march towards increasing regulation. Giving that inch means that a mile will be extracted later.

    I think there’s a second reason that most likely connects to fundraising. The reality is (for many mission-driven organizations) defense appeals are a great way to raise donations. That dis-incentivizes compromise on these sorts of issues.

  22. Kathy says:


    There’s that, and there’s the unmentioned fact that law and politics are of Greco-Roman origin. More so given the era, the Enlightenment, when America was founded.

    To me it’s quite clear that when Rome adopted Christianity, it made it more Roman in character than it made Rome Christian.

  23. Lily Bart says:

    Not to delegitimize the pro-life community, but many can’t help but overreach. It’s not enough to ban abortions after 20 weeks, but now some states are trying to pass “heartbeat” legislation and attach criminality to both mother and doctor who would opt for abortion after detection of a heartbeat. And our sorry excuse for a president speaks of “executing” babies after late term abortions. After Dr. Tiller was murdered, many wrote in to The Dish, Andrew Sullivan’s blog about their late term abortions. Their stories are vivid and heartbreaking.


  24. Lynn says:

    @Lily Bart:

    I agree; I’ve read many extremely sad stories about wanted babies found to have severe birth defect that would preclude life outside the uterus.

    There was one account about a couple who were told at about three months that the baby “might” have severe defects, but they couldn’t be sure for another couple of months. The parents debated abortion, but decided against as a late-term abortion would be available, if needed. As it turned out, all was well. That’s one abortion prevented by a later option being available.

  25. mattbernius says:


    Even as a pro-choicer, I dislike this narrative that the pro-life movement was some kind of sinister creation.

    Agreed. Without a doubt there are sinister aspects (or at least actors within) the movement. But the reality remains that it is entirely possible to hold deeply moral rationals to oppose all abortions. The reality is that is one of the truly irreconcilable issues within politics (especially if someone holds the belief that it is murder). At some point, when push comes to shove on this one, there really is no possibility of compromise.