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Fox News Town Hall: Pete Buttigieg shuts down a conservative talking point about abortion rights

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During a Fox News town hall on Sunday, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was confronted with a common conservative talking point on abortion rights — and he didn’t take the bait.

While discussing the recent laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio — which severely restrict access to abortions — Fox News anchor Chris Wallace sought to press Buttigieg on just when the cutoff point should be for when a woman can access an abortion. “Do you believe, at any point in pregnancy, that there should be any limit on a woman’s right to an abortion?” Wallace wanted to know.

It’s a framing that’s increasingly used by conservatives to provoke outrage about abortions: as illustrated by repeated comments from the President, such statements falsely suggest that there’s a preponderance of individuals opting to engage in abortions very late in their pregnancies, and that they’re doing so to actively hurt babies.

As Buttigieg emphasized to Wallace, however, not only is the proportion of women getting an abortion in the third trimester very small, the decision to have an abortion — at any point in pregnancy — should be a woman’s choice.

“The dialogue has gotten so caught up in where you draw the line. I trust women to draw the line,” he said.

Wallace followed up and pressed Buttigieg on that point, but the Mayor did not change his stance. Buttigieg’s response highlights just how much conservative critiques of abortion rights have focused far more on fear-mongering, than they do on addressing the realities of when people have abortions.

“You would be okay with a woman well into the third trimester to obtain an abortion?” Wallace asked.

“These hypotheticals are set up to provoke a strong emotional reaction,” Buttigieg noted.

“These aren’t hypotheticals—there are 6,000 women a year who get an abortion in the third trimester—” said Wallace.

“That’s right, Representing less than 1 percent of cases a year,” Buttigieg responded.

The data about abortions that take place later in pregnancies, closely matches Buttigieg’s comments, as noted in a Los Angeles Times story:

Just over 1% of abortions are performed at 21 weeks [which is before the third trimester], or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. An abortion after that time would likely occur because of a serious fetal anomaly or for the health of the woman. The vast majority of abortions — 89% — are done in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

“Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation. If it’s that late in your pregnancy … it’s [almost to the point] that you’ve been expecting to carry it to term,” Buttigieg added. “Families that they then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime. … That decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.”

Buttigieg does, however, still have vulnerabilities on the issue of abortion rights: Compared to competitors like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, he remains very light on policy specifics.

Buttigieg’s approach on abortion rights could be more substantive

As part of the town hall, Buttigieg may have effectively laid out his position on this subject, but he didn’t offer many details — and neither does his website’s issues page.

“I believe that the right of a woman to make her own decisions about her own reproductive health, about her body is a national right,” Buttigieg said on Sunday, noting that he intends to appoint federal judges who would support Roe v. Wade and bolster resources for reproductive care, like sex education and birth control access.

On his campaign website, Buttigieg also offers a single bullet point laying out more policy plans on the subject, which indicate that he backs repealing the Hyde Amendment, a measure that prevents Medicaid dollars from being used on abortions in most cases. As a ThinkProgress post noted in April, undoing the Hyde Amendment has become a baseline litmus test for where Democrats stand on abortion, an issue that the party had broadly agreed upon in the past.

Contrast that to the comprehensive plans that Gillibrand and Warren unveiled this week.

Gillibrand on Thursday, released a proposal on abortion rights that called for codifying Roe v. Wade as federal law, the preemption of state laws that seek to restrict access to abortion clinics and the creation of a new federal funding stream that would increase access to reproductive health care centers across the country. As Vox’s Anna North reported, Warren on Friday offered a similarly aggressive plan that would enshrine Roe as a federal statute.

It’s worth noting that one of the biggest differences on this issue could come down the Supreme Court. There is currently a conservative majority, and if President Trump gets any more appointments, overturning Roe v. Wade — or at least chipping away at it — seems all but certain. In that case, then, it’s the president and the Senate who make all the difference.

Buttigieg’s grappling with the subject on Sunday highlighted an important rebuttal to a commonly used framing on abortion rights. He’s hoping that’s enough.

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