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President Donald Trump on Tuesday called for legislation that would prohibit late-term abortions, citing controversial comments recently made by the embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
"To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother's womb," the president said during his State of the Union address.
The president's call for Congress to take up new legislation comes nearly a week after Northam was accused of promoting infanticide by Republican critics. The accusations followed somewhat muddled remarks that the governor made on a radio show. Northam said the interpretation of his remarks by anti-abortion lawmakers and activists was "shameful and disgusting."
Trump cited "the case of the Governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth."
"Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children – born and unborn – are made in the holy image of God," Trump said.
The vast majority of states ban abortions after a certain point of a pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization. Seventeen states ban abortion after about 20 weeks post-fertilization on the grounds that the fetus can then begin to feel pain, according to the organization.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that virtually all U.S. abortions occur within 13 weeks of gestation and two-thirds of abortions occur within eight weeks. About 1 percent of abortions take place after 21 weeks.
Northam landed in hot water last week while defending a Virginia law that would lower barriers for third term abortions in the state. The law would allow the procedures with the approval of one doctor, rather than the three that state law currently requires.
"So in this particular example, if a mother's in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen," Northam said on WTOP's "Ask The Governor" program Wednesday. "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."
Northam's spokeswoman, Ofirah Yheskel, clarified that his comments referred only to a situation in which a woman with a "nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor."
She said the governor "has helped families through the worst times in their lives — insinuating he would do anything but provide them best medical care is irresponsible and dangerous."
Trump also cited a New York law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month that permits abortions after 24 weeks if the health or life of the mother is at risk, or if the fetus is not viable.
"Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth," Trump said. "These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world."
In a tweet posted moments after Trump's comments, the Planned Parenthood of New York City Action Fund called the president's claim "ridiculous."
"Let's set the record straight: there is no such thing as an abortion up until birth," the group wrote.
And Cuomo, a Democrat and frequent Trump antagonist, vowed to fight the president's plan, citing the landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade. He said that Trump "just proposed rolling back Roe — the law of our nation for 46 years affirmed & reaffirmed by numerous Supreme Courts."
"Never," the governor tweeted.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing whether to grant an emergency stay of a Louisiana abortion law that activists have said would limit the state to a single doctor performing the procedure.
Observers have said that if the court decides to allow the law to take effect it will signal a weakening of Roe's prohibitions on laws that restrict abortion access. In 2016, the high court struck down an identical Texas law.
The Louisiana law, which requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, was scheduled to go into effect on Monday, but Justice Samuel Alito temporarily halted it until Thursday, allowing the court more time to review the matter.
Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, two of the four justices present during the president's remarks on Tuesday, are expected to be the key votes in the case. Neither of the two men, both Trump nominees, were on the bench when the court struck down the Texas abortion law by a vote of 5-3.
The justices, in line with tradition, sat stoically while Trump made his remarks on abortion, as Republicans in the chamber cheered and stood. Dozens of Democratic congresswomen, dressed in white as a symbol of women's rights, remained seated, as some shook their heads.