The abortion debate

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed Read

Who: President Trump, the Supreme Court, and the states of New York and Virginia

What: The debate over abortion rights in the United States is again dominating the national conversation after 1) legislative changes in New York and Virginia that reduce restrictions on late-term abortions, 2) the president’s provocative description of those changes during his State of the Union address as allowing a baby to be “ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth” and 3) a Supreme Court ruling blocking a Louisiana law that critics say would have left the state with just one doctor in one clinic able to perform abortions.

Why it’s significant: The Louisiana ruling was the first on an abortion case for the newly conservative majority Supreme Court – the court swung conservative after Trump’s controversial appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy, who was the court’s “swing vote.”

Justice John Roberts emerged as the swing vote in the Louisiana case, breaking with his fellow conservative justices and going against his own prior voting record on abortion laws (he had voted in support of a very similar law in Texas). While Roberts did not offer an explanation for his vote, it’s been interpreted as a sign that he will assume more centrist positioning to keep the court from moving too far right and to insulate the court from being perceived as an instrument for the bitterly divided partisan politics roiling Washington.

What’s next: The three state-specific abortion issues in a matter of weeks have many people on both sides of the aisle and across the country hotly debating anew what has long been an extremely divisive issue, and looking ahead to what the current national mood may signal for the fate of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Recapping where each law stands: Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s Reproductive Health Act into law on Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of Roe. The act allows abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy when there is “an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”

Virginia’s law, which would also have allowed for late-term abortions to protect the health of the mother and reduced the number of doctor sign-offs for an abortion from three to one, has been tabled for now. Further action on the blocked Louisiana law is on hold until October, when the Supreme court decides whether to add the case to its calendar.


Trump loves to fan the flames for a culture war

“Trump clearly views late abortion as an expedient wedge issue; in his State of the Union address, he called on Congress to pass a law banning abortion ‘of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.’ While such a law has no chance in the current Congress, the proposal is a useful reminder that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion law won’t simply be left to the states, because the anti-abortion movement is eager to pass national restrictions.” – Michelle Goldberg, New York Times

Cuomo calls out Trump’s flip-flop on abortion

“It’s worth recalling that in 1999, long before he ran for president, Mr. Trump described himself as ‘very pro-choice.’ Today he claims to be anti-choice, and he shamelessly courts the religious right to win votes. Too much of today’s political discourse is extreme. But emotions run especially high when politics and religion intersect – as in the debate about a woman’s right to choose. As a Roman Catholic, I am intimately familiar with the strongly held views of the church. Still, I do not believe that religious values should drive political positions.” – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Times

Tide turning in U.S. on abortion support

“It certainly is a new era, one in which the Democrats are further away from the American people on abortion than they’ve ever been in history, and one in which American views on abortion are more nuanced than ever before. A slight majority of Americans continue to support legal abortion, but primarily in the first trimester, and it’s something that makes them morally uneasy. Democrats who have been tossed out of office for their extremism on the issue can see this.” – Ashley McGuire, USA Today

New York now has tougher laws for animal protection than for women’s health

“In New York you do not need to be a doctor to perform an abortion, but you’ll need to comply with training and regulations to blow-dry your pet poodle. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. So much for women’s health. New York is considering expanding the rights and protections of animals harmed during the commission of a felony. However, since Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act, if a pregnant woman is the victim of an assault or domestic violence that causes the loss of an unborn child, that crime in New York is no longer considered a homicide – even if the baby is late-term. That’s simply twisted and also not in the best interests of protecting women from abuse.” – Tom Basile, Fox News

Catholicism’s decline has increased partisan polarization on abortion

“Prior to Roe v. Wade the anti-abortion side was regularly winning political victories in places that we think of as liberal bastions today. The division on abortion that runs between red and blue states today ran through both political parties and every U.S. state two generations ago – the ‘abortion capital’ very much included. This changed because of polarization and political tribalism, because currents in elite opinion reshaped liberal politics and backlash reshaped the G.O.P. But if you delve into this paper’s coverage of those long-gone abortion debates, you’ll be reminded that it also changed because the Catholic Church – in New York, especially – used to be an effective pro-life political force straddling partisan divides, instead of an institution devastated by attrition, internal division and the sex abuse disaster.” – Ross Douthat, New York Times

Virginia’s proposed law amounts to infanticide

“Supporters of the country’s expansive abortion regime now fear that the Supreme Court will retreat from it, either by declaring that the Constitution permits states to protect unborn children in general or by letting them offer more protection. That’s why they are pushing legislation in the states to codify that regime. It is an effort that is forcing supporters of abortion to be a little more candid about what they really want: an extreme regime that denies any meaningful protection to unborn children and threatens the protection for born ones.” – Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review

Democrats overplay their hand on abortion

“In defending bills that expand the right to abort viable fetuses, Democrats are giving away the game. Most people, even those who favor some abortion access, instinctively recoil from what they see. These late-term abortion bills do more than reveal Democratic radicalism. They draw back the veil of euphemism to expose abortion for what it is: At every stage of pregnancy, it is the taking of a human life. For the anti-abortion movement, it is a pivotal moment to insist upon that truth.” – Alexandra DeSanctis, Atlantic

Fact-check on “late-term” abortions

“Abortion after 21 weeks is rare. And if our goal is to afford women their rights under the Constitution, and for abortion to be safe, legal and rare, then we must be more thoughtful and knowledgeable about the subject. Doctors should be given the microphone to discuss this, not politicians, religious zealots or untrained citizens. President Trump and Republicans must stop the lies.” – Jessie Tarlov, The Hill