ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A failed bill in Virginia's state legislature is sparking a national debate about abortion and prompting Republican politicians, including President Trump, to weigh in. This morning, Trump tweeted - Democrats are becoming the party of late-term abortion. He was responding to a proposal backed by Virginia Democrats to remove several restrictions on the procedure, including later in pregnancy. NPR's Sarah McCammon covers reproductive rights and joins us from Virginia Beach. Hi, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about this Virginia bill. What would it have done?
MCCAMMON: Well, what's getting the most attention is that this bill would have removed a requirement that three doctors have to certify that a third-trimester abortion is necessary to protect a woman's life or health. There was an exchange this week in the Virginia House of Delegates that sparked a lot of controversy. It was between Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert and Delegate Kathy Tran. She's the Democrat who sponsored the bill.
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TODD GILBERT: How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman?
KATHY TRAN: Or physical health.
GILBERT: I'm talking about the mental health.
TRAN: So, I mean, through the third trimester, the third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.
MCCAMMON: Gilbert pressed Tran on whether abortions would be allowed up until a woman goes into labor. She said there's no limit in the bill, but that decision would be made by a woman and her doctor.
SHAPIRO: Now, that bill was voted down by a Virginia House subcommittee this week, but it has launched a big debate about third-trimester abortions. How is that debate taking shape?
MCCAMMON: Right. President Trump is criticizing Virginia's Democratic governor, Ralph Northam. In a radio interview yesterday, Northam was asked for his views on the bill. And he said third-trimester abortions are complicated and often occur when it would be impossible for a baby to survive outside a woman's body.
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RALPH NORTHAM: So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.
MCCAMMON: And President Trump called those comments terrible. And other Republicans have accused Northam of supporting infanticide. Northam responded with a press conference a little while ago today. He is a pediatrician. And he's counseled families in tough situations, he said. He says Republican lawmakers are trying to score political points here and that they should not interfere in these difficult decisions.
SHAPIRO: What is known about abortions that take place late in a pregnancy? How common are they and what are the typical reasons for them?
MCCAMMON: Well, there's not a lot of really detailed data. But the Guttmacher Institute, which does support abortion rights, says a little over 1 percent of abortions take place at some point after 21 weeks, which is still well within the second trimester. Medical groups say third-trimester abortions are very unusual and often do happen because of severe complications for the fetus or the woman and that abortion can be the safest option for women in some of these cases.
And I should mention, Ari, we're likely to see more of these debates in the months to come. For example, in New York, they just passed a law allowing abortions after 24 weeks to protect a woman's life or health. And with all the changes in the U.S. Supreme Court, there's a big tug of war over abortion rights - conservatives wanting to restrict them, liberals wanting to expand them. And we're going to see more of that in the months to come.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
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