In a particularly desperate moment during Wednesday night’s Republican presidential primary debate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) answered a question about abortion by spinning up this little tale: “I know a lady in Florida named Penny. She survived multiple abortion attempts. She was left discarded in a pan,” he said. “Fortunately, her grandmother saved her and brought her to a different hospital.”
DeSantis, who’s trailing former President Trump by about 40 points, continued, “We’re better than what the Democrats are selling. We are not going to allow abortion all the way up til birth, and we will hold them accountable for their extremism.”
So, to be extremely clear: Abortion all the way up to birth isn’t a thing. And DeSantis’ desperate “abortion survivor” bullshit—an obvious gag for attention at a debate that saw Vivek Ramaswamy talk all over him—draws from the usual Republican nonsense about imagined “late-term” abortions targeting born, living infants. DeSantis and Republicans rely on these baseless talking points because they know abortion rights are popular, and all they can do is obfuscate, confuse, and lie.
The line from DeSantis has since been appropriately roasted on Twitter:
Rare cases involving extreme, fatal fetal conditions can result in abortions later in pregnancy. But that has nothing to do with the story DeSantis told on stage. All this does is inflame anti-abortion extremism and surging violence against health care providers and their patients.
The “Penny” whom DeSantis referenced in the debate appears to be this anti-abortion activist from Michigan, not Florida, who’s acted as a spokesperson for Protect Life Michigan and has claimed to be born at 23 weeks in 1955 after her parents decided to have an abortion. Hopper has said she was born at just one pound and 11 ounces and that she was rescued by her grandmother and brought to a hospital in Florida. Her story has never been fact-checked, probably because it includes no actual facts to check, but has been the basis of a whole string of so-called “Born Alive” bills in state legislatures and Congress.
These laws threaten to imprison imagined doctors who supposedly perform “incomplete abortions” and fail to save the fetus’ life, as well as doctors who fail to provide “life-saving care” to a newborns with terminal conditions—even when no amount of action from doctors could realistically keep the baby alive, and families just want to be with their dying infant in the infant’s final moments.
In any case, everyone on the debate stage was pretty much on the same page as DeSantis. Mike Pence wants a national 15-week abortion ban. Nikki Haley, who supports abortion bans, postured as moderate with bullshit references to birth control and the meaningless promise to not jail abortion patients. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), another supporter of a national abortion ban, word-vomited about how God gave us all the right to life.
So, those are our options among the Republican field. As the debate moderators put it, “Abortion has been a losing issue for Republicans since the Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health] decision. In six states, referendums all have upheld abortion rights in this country and even in red states.” In a country that overwhelmingly supports abortion rights, what could possibly go wrong for these people?