Why the Focus on Late-Term Abortions?

In a long, long New Yorker piece on the antichoice Susan B. Anthony List and the contemporary politics of abortion, Kelefa Sanneh in passing succinctly identified the reasons why antichoicers have focused on the tiny percentage of abortions that occur after 20 weeks, which might seem to conceded a lot of ground in order to produce “wins” of dubious value:

While the other side talked broadly about “choice,” pro-life activists needed to talk more narrowly about the unpleasant details of abortion. This helps explain why the movement is targeting abortions performed after twenty weeks, which account for only one per cent of the total. If you believe, as [SBA List president Marjorie] Dannenfelser does, that a human being is created at the moment of fertilization, then a late-term abortion is no more tragic than any other. And it’s not clear that a twenty-week-old fetus is capable of feeling pain. The limit of twenty weeks was carefully chosen to be just short of viability, so that if the Supreme Court wants to uphold the law it will have to revise the regimen it created forty-one years ago.

So it’s all about undermining Roe–and also making themselves seem more reasonable than is the case when they’re talking about the full personhood of zygotes or discussing “legitimate rape.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.