Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in the interview with NBC reporter Ali Vitali expressing support for an abortion ban. (Photo: NBC news)
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. made and then tried to walk-back comments which supported banning abortion in some circumstances. But he's stuck with his own words and the supposedly anti-establishment presidential candidate is again taking positions that are decidedly right wing.
I hate to be all “I told you so,” but didn’t I tell you that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was problematic? Now when I said that, I was talking specifically about his peddling this cockamamie theory that COVID-19 was engineered to attack certain ethnic groups, which I outlined in pretty good detail in my last article.
So I almost hate to have to point out once again that RFK, Jr. has shown his allegiance with right-wing quackery-bordering-on-fascism in saying that he would support a national ban on abortion after the first three months of pregnancy if elected, and I gotta ask when is the section of the left that’s enamored with this dude going to abandon him.
At first, a spokesman for Kennedy said that he “misunderstood a question posed to him by an NBC reporter in a crowded, noisy exhibit hall at the Iowa State Fair,” and said the candidate’s stance on abortion as “always” being the woman’s right to choose. Kennedy "does not support legislation banning abortion.” But video of the exchange shows Kennedy answering a series of questions from an NBC news reporter and clearly stating, “I believe a decision to abort a child should be up to the women during the first three months of life.” When he was pressed on whether that meant signing a federal ban for abortions at 15 or 21 weeks, Kennedy said, “Once a child is viable, outside the womb, I think then the state has an interest in protecting the child, I’m for medical freedom. Individuals are able to make their own choices.”
It doesn’t seem to me like Kennedy misunderstood the questions, several of them, at all. But it does seem as though he doesn’t understand what “medical freedom” means, since he’s for medical freedom when it comes to vaccines, but not when it comes to what women do with their bodies after 21 weeks of pregnancy. Furthermore, it’s clear that RFK, Jr. doesn’t know much about abortion, so once again, let’s clear up yet another topic RFK, Jr. obviously knows nothing about.
Abortions at or after 21 weeks are uncommon and represent 1% of all abortions in the US. According to KFF.com, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation, these procedures are prohibitively expensive for most working-class and poor people, and this excludes the cost of travel and lost wages. The cost alone limits access to these procedures for most women.
RFK, Jr used the term “viable” to describe a fetus that is able to live outside of the womb. But the problem is that there is no standard accepted determination for fetal viability. Once again, KFF.com says that viability depends on many factors, including gestational age, fetal weight and sex, and medical interventions available, not simply the number of weeks of pregnancy.
A fetus isn’t viable outside of the womb simply because it has reached the magical 21-week mark.
Add to that the fact that external/social/systemic factors impact fetal viability, and the whole “21-weeks equals viable fetus” formula goes out the window. Location of the hospital where the mother gets prenatal care or will deliver the baby factors into the viability of the fetus. Why? Because infants born in resource-rich settings have a higher likelihood of survival than those born in resource-poor settings. Resource-rich regions have medical facilities that are more likely to have adequate neonatologists and maternal-fetal-medicine doctors than hospitals in poorer regions. And hospitals in resource-rich areas usually have policies that provide comprehensive treatment for infants born at 22 weeks while hospitals in poor areas may have some treatment policies for premature-born infants but not 100% coverage, and some hospitals have no policies or capacity to respond to those cases at all. And, for those hospitals that do not have adequate policies or staff to meet these needs, the pregnant person may be transferred to a hospital with better neonatal crisis services, but that is also not always possible. Then, on top of that, the patient’s health insurance coverage and reimbursement for transfers in care varies by state and insurance plan.
All this means that a fetus isn’t viable just because it’s reached the 21 weeks milestone, but where the pregnant person is getting care, the quality of that care, and the ability to access a better facility should the kind of care needed not be available at the nearest hospital all factor into whether a fetus is viable outside of the womb at 21 weeks or at any time because capitalism literally decides who lives or dies and when in this country, and that is true from the cradle to the grave. And can we be real and add that white supremacy and racial bias in the delivery of medicine that results in higher maternal deaths among Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women in this country also equate to lower outcomes for fetal survival at 21 weeks and any other time during the pregnancy, and also impacts the mortality of babies born to those women? So how is a federal ban on abortions at 21 weeks going to save those women’s babies when the racism they receive throughout their pregnancies and during childbirth is a threat to their lives and their babies?
And speaking of capitalism, let’s talk about the cost of abortion, shall we? Almost half of the individuals polled in the Turnaway Study out of the University of California San Francisco from 2008-2010 who obtained an abortion after 20 weeks did so because 1) they did not know they were pregnant until later in pregnancy, 2) they didn’t know where to access an abortion, 3) they had difficulties securing transportation to facilities to obtain an abortion, and most importantly 4) they lacked insurance coverage or money to pay for the procedure. Because, you see, there isn’t an abortion clinic on every corner like liquor stores and churches in this country, and that’s true even in the poorest neighborhoods, and according to this study, this was true in 2010, so no abortion isn’t the new Black genocide as some have opined in recent years in giving a Black face to the white evangelical assault on bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.
But let’s be real here, abortions are expensive. In 2012 the median cost of a surgical abortion at 10 weeks was $495, jumping to $1,350 at 20 weeks (range $750-$5,000) excluding the cost of travel and lost wages. In 2021 the cost of abortion was $625 for a first-trimester procedural abortion, $775 for a second-semester procedural abortion and higher for later termed abortions which, again, are rare. Today an abortion can cost between $800 - over $1,200 for a procedure in the first or second trimester.
So if 40% of U.S. adults don’t have enough money saved for a $400 emergency, who does RFK, Jr. think is having all these later-term abortions that they need to be stopped with a federal ban? Working-class and poor people in this country don’t have enough money saved to get the brakes fixed on their car (if they have one) let alone pay for an unplanned and very expensive medical procedure!
All of these factors contribute to the fact that abortions at or after 21 weeks are RARE in the US, so there isn’t an onslaught of late-term abortions that a federal ban needs to be put in place to protect “children” from.
But if RFK, Jr really believes the state needs to step in and protect the child, then the state needs to step in and provide housing, education, employment and HEALTHCARE for their parents rather than cooking up more laws to ban things that people aren’t really doing in the name of protecting children.
Of course, he’s walked back his comments again. But it really ought to be obvious by now that this man has no idea what he’s talking about, which should signal to people that he’s not a serious challenge to anyone, especially since he’s running against Biden as a Democrat in a party that will not let him on a debate stage. But if his obvious right-wing tendencies like unconditional support for Israel and now his support of a federal abortion ban in any context isn’t enough to turn the Latte Left off from this guy, I honestly don’t know what will.
Jacqueline Luqman is a radical activist based in Washington, D.C.; as well as co-founder of Luqman Nation, an independent Black media outlet that can be found on YouTube (here and here and on Facebook ; and co-host of Radio Sputnik’s “By Any Means Necessary”.