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The abortion debate is increasing after a leaked draft opinion this month indicated the U.S. Supreme Court was preparing to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed the right to an abortion.
Last week, U.S. Senate Democrats worked to codify the ruling into law, thus ensuring abortion access would be preserved nationwide even if the higher court opted to overturn the case. Democrats didn’t have the votes and the bill failed to pass.
Leading up to last Wednesday’s vote, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s campaign decried Abby Finkenauer for her support of the proposed legislation. Finkenauer, a former Iowa House representative and one-term congresswoman, is vying for the seat Grassley holds in November’s election.
"Democrats will stop at nothing to ensure their extremist views are enacted into law. Look no further than the bill in front of the U.S. Senate today — The Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act — which allows pregnancies to be terminated from conception to birth. Abby Finkenauer shared her support for this radical bill,“ Grassley’s team wrote in a campaign email.
The bill is not actually named the The Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act. That was coined by conservative lawmakers who opposed it. The bill is named the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021, which had previously passed the House.
Language in the bill prevents state governments from prohibiting abortion before fetal viability, or from limiting providers’ ability to “immediately provide abortion services when the provider determines a delay risks the patient's health.” The bill also prevents states from prohibiting abortions after fetal viability “when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient's life or health.”
Medical experts typically agree that viability occurs at 24 weeks gestation, but can vary on many factors such as available medical interventions.
Grassley’s campaign pointed to a May 11 tweet from Finkenauer in which she criticized U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats. Manchin voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act, while Sinema previously refused to support Senate Democratic leadership’s move to eliminate the filibuster.
The bill “should be able to pass, no problem — but once again, (Manchin) and (Sinema) are expected to turn their backs on Americans and side with ultraconservatives. We have to expand our majority in November,” she wrote.
Finkeneauer tweeted again later that day, stating: “(Grassley) just voted against codifying Roe into law. He thinks you’ll forget about it by November. Retweet now if you’re committed to proving him wrong and voting him out in November.”
Grassley’s team pointed also out in an email that Finkenauer was a co-sponsor on the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2019 when she was the representative for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Iowa U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack and Cindy Axne — along with 214 other Democrats in the House — were also listed as co-sponsors.
The majority of Americans don’t support overturning Roe v. Wade. The Pew Research Center found 61 percent of American adults believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 37 percent believed it should be illegal in most or all cases.
The vague language in the bill does leave it unclear what restrictions on abortion, if any, Finkenauer and other Democrats support. However, the term “until birth” is a misleading characterization of this legislation. NPR examined the discrepancies in public comments made by lawmakers or policy staff, and the way it was presented by Republican organizations.
Despite their rare occurrence, late-term abortions — or abortions at or after 21 weeks gestation — receive “a disproportionate amount of attention in the news, policy and the law,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which noted that “discussions on this topic are often fraught with misinformation.”
“For example, intense public discussions have been sparked after several policymakers have theorized about abortions occurring ‘moments before birth’ or even ‘after birth.’ In reality, these scenarios do not occur, nor are they legal, in the U.S.,” researchers said.
Late-term abortions are uncommon, representing less than 1 percent of all abortions in the United States in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 93 percent of abortions in the United States occur at or before 13 weeks gestation, while 6.2 percent take place between 14 and 20 weeks gestation, according to the CDC.
There’s limited data on the reasons individuals seek late-term abortions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that researches health policy.
The decision could be driven by a life-threatening condition that developed later in the pregnancy, or because of a fetal anomalies. A fetal anatomy scan is typically performed around 20 weeks, which is when providers discover structural anomalies that may have not been previously apparent.
Kaiser researchers also found that certain barriers — such as cost of abortion procedures, lack of insurance coverage and lack of knowledge about where to access an abortion — is also a contributing factor in late-term abortions.
Grassley’s campaign relies misleading terms to describe this legislation. The claim implies any abortion could take place at any point in the pregnancy, when in reality, a late-term abortion would occur only if the life or the health of the pregnant patient is at risk.
What keeps this check from receiving a failing grade for its misleading oversimplification is that it is correct that Finkenauer supports the Women’s Health Protection Act. Grade: D.
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Members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne and Michaela Ramm. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Michaela Ramm.