Donald Trump's claim in New Jersey that Democrats want to 'execute babies' is one of many GOP abortion falsehoods

Alfred Lubrano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

Former President Donald Trump recently told a crowd of thousands in Wildwood, New Jersey, the baseless claim that Democrats want to pass an abortion law that enables doctors to “execute” newborns.

“If the radical Democrat extremists get their way,” Trump said during his May 11 rally, “they will have a federal law — an abortion in the eighth and ninth month, and even executing the baby after birth.”

Trump has mentioned infant executions in previous speeches that were repudiated by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit media research organization, which asserted: “Democrats aren’t calling for the killing of infants after birth.”

That Trump’s statement is untrue seemed to mean little to audience members, who cheered as Trump repeated it — an example of how misinformation about abortion has taken hold with a significant portion of Trump’s base.

And the falsehoods are expected to multiply in the lead-up to a high-stakes presidential election in which abortion will be a key dividing line between the candidates.

“What some people say about abortion becomes resistant to facts and knowledge,” said sociologist Judith Levine, director of Temple University’s Public Policy Lab. “They create confirmation bias — the comfort of having your fears and angers validated, and enjoying having company in outrage.”

Levine said repetition of inaccurate information about the procedure creates “an echo chamber of inflammatory ideas,” as was demonstrated by Trump’s speech.

Levine stressed that there’s a difference between those who simply believe abortion is wrong, and those who perpetuate lies about an already fraught topic.

How is abortion misinformation spreading on the campaign trail?

Trump’s influence on abortion was evident last month at the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in Camp Hill, which was attended by Republicans who will appear alongside the former president on the Pennsylvania ballot, including Senate nominee Dave McCormick and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry.

Known as the premier gathering of conservative politicians, advocates, and thinkers in the commonwealth, the conference has for 35 years spread Republican thinking throughout election seasons.

Melanie Kornides, a professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who specializes in combating medical misinformation, said the conference was “designed to manipulate by using incomplete or fake facts.”

Trump’s claims about abortion were matched by conference speaker Cheryl Allen, a former Pennsylvania Superior Court judge, and currently of counsel to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative organization working to make the state “a place where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished.”

She said that abortion-rights supporters “promote abortion until the due date of a child.” Allen also declared, “Abortion is unsafe,” and she asserted that abortion medications “threaten the lives of women.”

In attacking abortion-inducing medications, a panel discussion that Allen anchored concluded that mifepristone, half of a drug combination that can be used to end a pregnancy, “starves the baby to death.” Doctors said these claims — circulating on the political right — have no basis in fact.

Sarah Gutman, a Philadelphia obstetrician-gynecologist and an abortion provider, said it’s inaccurate to label the abortion procedure, as well as the drugs used in a medication abortion, as unsafe.

“It’s seven times more likely for a pregnancy to end in fatality than an abortion,” she said. Other estimates are twice that rate.

Sarah Prager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle, said that abortion is safer than colonoscopy, tonsillectomy, and plastic surgery.

Medical abortion is approved by the FDA and considered safe, with serious complications requiring hospitalization (for vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, or infection) occurring in less than 0.3% of patients, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.


Referencing the “starvation of a ‘baby’ — as opposed to a fetus,” Gutman said, “is absolutely inflammatory and inaccurate. And there’s no point in a pregnancy when a fetus is getting food. It gets blood flow from the placenta.”

She also said that physicians allowing abortions into the ninth month of pregnancy is “simply not a thing,” especially at a time when performing abortions can be considered a crime in some places.

Incorrect information from conferences such as these spreads to the general public through social media, experts said.

“Something from a conference like this that gets passed on as fact, when it’s only a way to sow fear and discord,” Gutman said. “It’s intentional and malicious.”

Do other Republican candidates sound like Trump when they talk about abortion?

While neither Perry nor McCormick addressed abortion in Camp Hill, they’ve disseminated misinformation in other campaign appearances.

Perry said in April that the left “demands absolutely no limit on how or when pre-born babies can be aborted.” And in February, a McCormick spokesperson mischaracterized his opponent, Sen. Bob Casey, by saying the incumbent Pennsylvania Democrat has “repeatedly voted to allow abortion up until the moment of birth.”

McCormick then compounded abortion misinformation during a May 2 radio segment on the Dawn Stensland Show, which airs in Philadelphia on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT. He agreed with Stensland, a longtime Philadelphia broadcaster and media figure, that abortion is a money laundering operation for Democrats.

Stensland said, “I always say the abortion issue is really not about reproductive rights. It’s not, it’s really, to me personally. Look at the money, and it’s a money laundering operation. Look at the money that goes from Democratic administrations to Planned Parenthood.”

McCormick then said:

“Yeah, and you know, Bob Casey’s position and others is federal funding (for Planned Parenthood), which I am opposed to. So, I agree with you.”

The 1977 Hyde amendment banned the use of federal funds for abortion.

Planned Parenthood gets no federal funding for its abortion services, but its affiliates receive Medicaid reimbursements for other medical services. They also receive federal grant funding under the Department of Health and Human Services’ Title X program, which supports birth control, breast cancer screenings, and other reproductive health care.

Tara Murtha, director of strategic communications for the Women’s Law Project, a Philadelphia-based organization that advocates for abortion rights among other issues, called the money laundering characterization “too absurd to have to seriously address” when asked about McCormick’s radio appearance.


(Inquirer staff writer Aliya Schneider contributed to this article. Dr. Sarah Gutman, a Philadelphia OB-GYN, quoted in this story is married to Abraham Gutman, an Inquirer staff writer.)


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