In the presidential debate Wednesday night, Donald J. Trump expounded on pregnancy and abortion, asserting that under current abortion law, “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.”
Doctors say the scenario Mr. Trump described does not occur.
“That is not happening in the United States,” said Dr. Aaron B. Caughey, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health and Science University.
“It is, of course, such an absurd thing to say,” he said. “I’m unaware of anyone that’s terminating a pregnancy a few days prior to delivery of a normal pregnancy.”
There can be situations where complications or problems occur late in pregnancy — if the woman was in a car crash, for example, or if she was suffering from severe pre-eclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition involving high blood pressure.
But in cases like that, doctors said, the baby would be delivered before the due date, either by inducing labor or performing an emergency cesarean section.
If, very late in pregnancy, a fetus was found to be nonviable — to have a condition that would not allow it to survive after birth — the woman might continue the pregnancy and deliver a stillborn baby, or she might decide not to continue the pregnancy, Dr. Caughey said.
“Would you call that an abortion?” he said. “I think most of us wouldn’t use that language. We would say induction of labor for a nonviable pregnancy.”
Mr. Trump made his statements to condemn Hillary Clinton, who, as a senator, voted against a federal ban on late-term, or what critics call partial-birth, abortions.
Abortions that occur more than halfway through pregnancy are very rare in the United States, and many states have laws that add restrictions to the timing of abortions.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization that supports abortion rights, 1.3 percent of abortions in the United States occur at 21 weeks of pregnancy or later.
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, essentially established abortion as legal up until a fetus would be viable outside the womb (about 24 weeks into pregnancy) but also said later abortion is permissible under certain conditions, including to protect the life or health of the mother.
The Guttmacher Institute reports that 43 states prohibit abortion after a specific time in pregnancy, including 19 states that set the limit at fetal viability, three that prohibit abortion in the third trimester, beginning at 27 weeks, and 15 states that ban abortion at 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Some of these laws are considered unconstitutional by abortion rights advocates, but their existence indicates that late-term abortion is extremely rare.
On social media, many people reacted sarcastically or angrily to Mr. Trump’s assertions.
A few wrote emotionally about their own late-term abortions, and said that Mr. Trump minimized the pain they felt in having to make one of the most difficult decisions in their lives.