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Judy Stern: The facts about late-term abortion from the OB-GYN department

This commentary is written by Judy E. Stern, Ph.D. of Clarendon, who is an emerita professor of OB-GYN at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. She previously directed the Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinical in vitro fertilization laboratory and has done research into the health effects of infertility and IVF on women and children.

In recent weeks, we have been inundated with op-eds, signs and mailings from those opposing the abortion-rights amendment, also known as Article 22 or Proposal 5. These advertisements urge voters to vote no in order to prevent elective late-term abortions. The problem with the arguments in these advertisements is that there is no such thing as elective late-term abortion. 

Some of the arguments from these people suggest that late-term abortion should have been specifically outlawed in this amendment. They say that the fact that it wasn’t specifically mentioned suggests that it would be allowed or even encouraged under this legislation. But laws and constitutional amendments cannot be written to outlaw a procedure that doesn’t exist. Doing this would itself give validity to non-existent terminology. The proposed constitutional amendment would not change current reproductive medical practice in Vermont. It would protect what we have, it would not add any procedures not currently performed. 

To repeat: there is no such thing as elective late-term abortion. 

“Late-term abortion” is a political term, not a medical term. It is found in no medical textbooks. It is a term created by pundits and political operatives to confuse people and get them to vote against their own interest in reproductive freedom. 

One way to think about it would be to wonder what person would go through 3 months of nausea and vomiting, another 6 months of back pain, exhaustion and inability to find a comfortable sleeping position, and take on the associated risks of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension, only to get to 8 1/2 months and say, “Gee, I don’t think I want this baby.” 

Not only is this an unrealistic scenario, but no physician confronted with such a request would honor it because at 8 1/2 months they would be aborting a baby capable of viability. What Article 22 does protect is appropriate care for an unexpected and tragic medical emergency that threatens a pregnant person’s life and that requires intervention at a late date in pregnancy. But even in that case, protecting both mother and baby is always the goal. What is needed in such difficult and medically complex cases is to allow any decisions to be made by a pregnant person (and partner), and a doctor. These are decisions that should not be left to political operatives.

The argument that this amendment supports elective late-term abortion is a red herring, a distraction. It is a disingenuous, cynical, manipulative attempt to confuse and obfuscate. It is a term designed to make you think of all abortion decisions as irresponsible choices made willy-nilly without thought or concern. It is an attempt to override the truth that most abortion decisions are difficult and heart wrenching. The term “late-term abortion” was designed to sound ominous, to sound serious, and to confuse people into voting against their own best interests. Let me say it again: there is no such thing as elective late-term abortion. 

When voting in November, please remember that there is no such thing as elective late-term abortion. Vote yes on Article 22 and protect the liberties we currently have in Vermont.

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