Fact Check: GOP Leader Is Wrong About Abortion Law Ruling

Jul 3, 2019

Abortion laws in North Carolina have garnered a lot of discussion lately. In March, a federal court ruled that the state’s ban on abortions after the 20th week of a woman’s pregnancy is unconstitutional. After that Republican lawmakers pushed to impose new penalties on doctors who kill babies that survive an abortion. Governor Cooper vetoed the bill, calling it redundant. A federal law already protects fetuses born alive.

Last month a day after an override vote failed, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore had this to say on WBT’s Pat McCrory Show.

MOORE: Now in North Carolina, under that law, someone can get an abortion up until right before the baby is delivered. It’s absolutely outrageous. That should not be allowed to happen.

But is that actually allowed? To find out, WFAE Morning Edition host Lisa Worf turns to Paul Specht of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Specht: He is incorrect to suggest that something has changed in the law when he says now in North Carolina a woman can get an abortion "right up until the moment of birth." That is misleading because it gives the impression that anyone can abort any fetus, which is not true.

Federal laws set by Roe vs. Wade — that landmark case in 1973 — say that a woman has a right to abortion during pre-viability but not after viability. So, he's wrong to suggest that the law is now allowing anyone to abort viable fetuses up until birth. Pregnancy is somewhere between 38 and 40 weeks, and physicians told us that no respectable doctor would ever abort a fetus anywhere near that time.

It would have to be in a special circumstance where the mother's life is endangered or maybe the fetus, there are complications, and even in that case they'd often induce birth, because the mother's so far along, rather than try to perform some sort of abortion.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland
Credit NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Worf: Moore's spokesman, Joseph Kyzer, said the judge's ruling leaves the decision of when a fetus is viable to the "sole discretion" of physicians. Does he have a point there?

Specht: He does. And he used actually stronger language to describe physicians. But, yes, it is up to the doctor and medical professionals to determine a child's viability and that right, if you will, was granted to physicians through that Roe vs. Wade ruling.

They say that medical professionals are the ones who should determine viability, and they've struck down many, if not most, laws that try to pin viability to a certain week or date in pregnancy because people are different. Women are different. Fetuses are different — they grow at different rates so most experts say that viability occurs sometime between 24 weeks and 28 weeks. But it's not consistent, which is why the courts have often left it to a woman's doctor.

Worf: So how do you rate Moore's comments?

Specht: We rated them mostly false. He only gets credit because there are abortions and special circumstances after viability, in the case where the mother's health or life is in danger, but otherwise, his suggestion that the ruling changed anything is false and just the lack of context given in this quote to former Gov. Pat McCrory, where he doesn't distinguish between viable fetuses and pre-viable fetuses. It leaves a lot to the imagination and it is misleading. So, because of that, we rated his statement mostly false.

Paul Specht will be joining WFAE’s Morning Edition every Wednesday to Fact Check North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.