By John Klar
Great controversy surrounds a Feb. 15, 2019 VTDigger article (“Fact-check: Would Vermont’s proposed law allow abortions ‘right up to the moment of birth’?“) in which the author, Colin Meyn, weighs the veracity of Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne’s statement that H.57 “would allow a child to be aborted right up to the moment of birth.”
Prior to Feb. 15, four attorneys had submitted commentaries to VTDigger regarding precisely this issue: all agreed with Bishop Coyne. VTDigger printed attorney Tim Kane’s “Reproductive rights gone amok,” (February 5, 2019); the other three attorneys’ pieces — Deb Bucknam, Bob Orleck, and John Klar — appeared on True North Reports.
Yet Mr. Meyn then wrote his contention that Bishop Coyne’s assertion, though “true in a legal sense … is seriously misleading with regard to permissible practice in Vermont.” Meyn’s wobbly piece concludes:
The proposed law would not change the legal reality in Vermont in any way. And all evidence indicates that the type of abortions that the bishop fears — elective procedures in the final stages of pregnancy — do not occur in Vermont, and would not occur if H.57 passes. We rate this statement as Mostly False.
There are two falsehoods in Mr. Meyn’s fact check reporting. The statement “[H.57] … would not change the legal reality in Vermont in any way” is “true” in that third-trimester abortions will continue to be legal in Vermont, precisely as stated by Bishop Coyne. Agreeing with the four attorneys, FindLaw states: “It is legal for an abortion to be performed in Vermont at any stage of pregnancy for any reason or for no reason.” But what Meyn writes is patently false because it ignores that H.57 specifically prohibits any public entity from “prohibiting” or “interfering with” a health care provider’s involvement in the termination of a patient’s pregnancy, even creating a cause of action against the government (with attorney’s fees). This expands protections for the existing right to abort up until delivery, without any limitation, as Bishop Coyne stated.
The second falsehood is the statement “all evidence indicates that the type of abortions that the bishop fears — elective procedures in the final stages of pregnancy — do not occur in Vermont, and would not occur if H.57 passes.” This statement is demonstrably false, by use of VTDigger’s own resources. Mr. Meyn references as a source the Centers for Disease Control’s recently released study, “Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2015” (Nov. 23, 2018). Among other details, this report reveals (Table 7, Reported abortions, by known weeks of gestation and reporting area of occurrence, 2015) that nine abortions were performed after 21 weeks’ gestation in Vermont in 2015, and that nationally that figure was 5,597 (for the 40 states reporting). As Table 11 (Reported abortions, by known method type and reporting area of occurrence, 2015) indicates, all of these were “surgical procedures,” defined as “Includes aspiration curettage, suction curettage, manual vacuum aspiration, menstrual extraction, sharp curettage, and dilation and evacuation procedures.”
How can Mr. Meyn possibly assert that “all evidence indicates … [they] do not occur in Vermont”? Moreover, the CDC notes that “reports indicate that delays in obtaining an abortion are more common among certain groups of women.” A footnote leads the reader to “Who Seeks Abortions After 20 Weeks?” (Nov. 4, 2013). Authors Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport conclude:
Women aged 20–24 were more likely than those aged 25–34 to have a later abortion (odds ratio, 2.7)….Most women seeking later abortion fit at least one of five profiles [(which described 80% of the sample)]: They were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous….data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment…. The second most common profile of women seeking later abortion (describing 30% of the sample) is characterized by substance use or mental health problems. (Abortion After 20 Weeks)
The CDC study cited by reporter Meyn thus reveals that late-term abortions are likely performed in Vermont, are more likely in younger women, and that approximately 80 percent of them are elective procedures. Further, H.57 increases protection for this status quo, prohibiting any form of government or administrative intrusion.
I rate VTDigger’s article by Colin Meyn as deliberately misleading. The bishop did not state that such procedures were performed — he stated that they were legal, which they most evidently are. But Mr. Meyn’s straw man has caught fire — it appears from his own data that such procedures likely are performed here in Vermont, electively.
If third-trimester abortions are not performed in Vermont, why on earth would supporters of H.57 be working so tirelessly, and dishonestly, to ensure that the “right” to perform them is preserved, even strengthened? Vermonters deserve better.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield.