Journalists Consistently Get U.S. Abortion Law Wrong

AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach
AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach

In recent stories about surrogate mom Melissa Cook–who is refusing to abort one of the triplets she was hired to carry–journalists consistently demonstrate their ignorance of US abortion laws.

In the New York Post, reporter Carl Campanile writes, “California law says that aside from life-threatening exceptions, fetuses can’t be aborted once they become ‘viable,’ or around 20 weeks.”

In the U.K. Daily Mail Ashley Collman writes, “The surrogacy feud first made headlines in November, when Cook was days away from the 20-week break-off mark for legal abortions.”

Both statements are wrong on the facts.

In fact, no matter what law any state may have on the books, abortion is legal in every U.S. state through all nine-months of pregnancy, as decided by the Supreme Court Decisions Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

The specific law in California, mirroring the Roe and Doe decisions, allows for restrictions based on the life and health of the mother after the viability of the unborn child, generally considered to be 24+ weeks, rather than the 20 weeks the Daily Mail reports.

To many reporters this means abortion is illegal after viability. But that would be false. The problem is the definition of health. While Roe mentions health as a reason for a late term abortion, the decision left “health” undefined. Doe defined health:

The medical judgment [for a late-term abortion] may be exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.

Pro-life campaigners point out that “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age” is so broad as to be practically meaningless and results in abortion on demand for any reason and no reason.

The woman’s age, for instance, could be construed to mean that a 27-year-old could get a late-term abortion by saying she is old to have a child but could, the next year, do so again by saying she is too young to have a child. Both reasons would be compatible with the law.

California actually has among the least restrictive abortion regimes in the country. It does not require waiting periods, parental involvement in minor abortions, or restrictions in public funding. In fact, California just passed a law mandating that Crisis Pregnancy Centers announce they do not do abortions.

Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse


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