PolitiFact Rules Vermont Bishop Is Legally 'True,' But Still 'Mostly False' on Abortion

Our News Analysis Division has given this fact checker a rating of:
Deeply Distorted Deeply Distorted

One way the "independent fact-checkers" damage their own credibility is by admitting a statement is "true," but by applying loads of context, it's actually "false." This happened on Friday, when PolitiFact tagged Christopher Coyne, the Catholic Bishop of Burlington, Vermont -- as "Mostly False" for saying at a public meeting "We’re talking about a law that would allow a child to be aborted right up to the moment of birth." What Coyne said was "true in a strict legal sense" but still "Mostly False" after context is added.

The law is H. 57, and Bishop Coyne made his case to the "fact" people: 

"This section prohibits (makes illegal) any restrictions placed upon a woman's right to have an abortion. No such restrictions are named in the bill, but would include any restrictions involving gestational age of the unborn child," he wrote in an email.

"The bill, therefore, codifies a woman's right to have an abortion at any time during a pregnancy, for any or no reason, up until full-term birth," he added.

PolitiFact Vermont's Colin Meyn conceded with a True, But: "That’s true, if medical professionals did not adhere to their own policies and ethical practices." Then the article took a strange turn, claiming late-term abortions don't happen....even though they do: 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control on abortions nationwide in 2015 shows that seven abortions were conducted in Vermont after 21 weeks -- 0.7 percent of all abortions in the state -- but doesn’t give a more specific breakdown for when those procedures were performed.

The medical society added that woman simply do not elect to terminate pregnancies in the final few months, as opponents of H.57, like Coyne, suggest.

"‘Late term’ abortion is a social construct introduced to create an image of an elective abortion that happens closer to 8-9 months, which does not happen and is not a term that is used medically," the society says.

And even if a woman wanted to abort a pregnancy that late, there are no providers who would do it in Vermont, according to the medical society.

"No abortion providers in Vermont perform elective abortions in the third trimester," it says.

So how did seven late-term abortions occur? And how is "late term abortion" not an accurate, scientific term? Late-term abortions may be rare, but a "fact checker" shouldn't say there are "none."

Nevertheless, PolitiFact summarized its verdict this way: 

Bishop Coyne’s statement is true in a strict legal sense, but only if the law existed in a practice and policy vacuum. Without context, it is seriously misleading in regards to what would be permissible practice in Vermont.

The proposed law would not change the legal reality in Vermont in any way. And all evidence indicates that the type of abortions that the bishop fears -- elective procedures in the final stages of pregnancy -- do not occur in Vermont, and would not occur if H.57 passes.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

We have rated this "fact-check" by PolitiFact as Deeply Distorted. For similar analyses, please visit our Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers page. 

Tim Graham's picture


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