Later Abortions Don’t Hurt the People You Think They Hurt

Later abortion is in the news this week, thanks to legislation in Virginia that was designed to increase access to abortion care for patients who need it later in pregnancy. The legislation did not legalize any specific procedure, but it reduced barriers to access — like a waiting period and a patronizing requirement that three physicians sign off on a later abortion.

Anti-choicers have seized on this legislation to advance harmful narratives about later abortion, who has these procedures and why, complete with rhetoric about “abortion up to birth.”

The reality of later abortion is much different — and with activists preparing to challenge Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court, it’s an important time to separate fact from fiction.

First, a note about terminology: You may have heard later abortion referred to as “late-term abortion,” a phrase popularized by the right that is medically and scientifically inaccurate. Advocates for reproductive rights and justice prefer “later abortion” because it more accurately characterizes these procedures as abortions performed later in pregnancy.

Now, some quick facts:

So, what kind of person gets an abortion at 21 weeks, or even later — like after 24 weeks, when a fetus starts to reach viability, meaning that it could theoretically survive outside the womb with extensive medical support?

New York resident T.S. Mendola’s fetus was diagnosed with a lethal anomaly late in pregnancy — and, because of her state’s anti-abortion laws, she had to travel to Colorado to access the procedure. Her heart-wrenching and graphic description of the experience articulates just how devastating it was to make the decision.

An anonymous woman who received care at the same clinic had to travel to Colorado to receive an injection that would stop the baby’s heart and then fly back to New York to go into labor and deliver the baby there. She described the experience of learning about a fatal fetal anomaly very late into a very much wanted pregnancy as “terrible.”

A Virginia resident received a diagnosis of a birth defect so severe that her child would likely never be able to breathe independently. In combination with other health problems, her baby boy would probably die shortly after birth. She, too, opted for a later abortion.

Alicia Hupprich, a mom, was thrilled for her new pregnancy … until a scan revealed that the developing fetus had an anomaly so severe physicians were surprised she hadn’t miscarried. A later abortion was the best choice for her. In a cruel twist, because of the extremely high cost of delivering, she was forced to receive a dilation and evacuation procedure, which deprived her of the opportunity to say farewell and grieve on her own terms.

You get the idea: People receiving abortions later in pregnancy tend to do so because of a lethal fetal anomaly or a serious threat to the health of the pregnant person. Or because restrictive abortion laws made it difficult for them to get an abortion earlier in pregnancy.

In all these cases, patients had to pay in cash because many insurance companies don’t cover abortion care. Abortion funds can help people pay for the procedure as well as travel, lodging and other needs — but their resources are stretched thin, and it’s challenging for them to meet all requests.

Care providers, meanwhile, evaluate each case carefully and consult with their patients in detail to learn more about the situation and the patient’s decision-making process. Their goal is to deliver the best possible health care in a supportive, safe environment; their work can indeed involve stopping a fetus’ heart, performing a dilation and evacuation, or helping the patient deliver a stillbirth — but they aren’t “baby killers.” A fetus isn’t a baby.

When discussing subjects like later abortion, it can be helpful to talk facts and highlight cases like these, where patients had to terminate wanted and eagerly anticipated pregnancies. But it’s also important to bear in mind that abortion is health care, and every patient who wants an abortion should be able to receive one on their own terms from a trained and compassionate provider.

Legal restrictions on abortion tend to hit low-income patients hardest, especially if they live in conservative states, and poverty shouldn’t be a sentence to an unwanted pregnancy.

Anti-choicers often use scare tactics that push people defending the right to choose into a corner where they bring up exceptional and tragic cases to justify abortion, but that can stigmatize people who need abortions for other reasons. Definitely push back on falsehoods used to justify laws targeting later abortions — but don’t be afraid to say that abortion is healthcare, and everyone needs access to safe, evidence-based, compassionate health care services.

Photo credit: ake1150sb/Getty Images

47 comments

Jan S
Jan S3 days ago

Thank you for sharing

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Emma L
Emma L4 days ago

Thank you

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Freya H
Freya H4 days ago

The minds of anti-choice fanatics - and Care2 trolls - are already made up. They don't want to be confused by facts.

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Kayla Cote
Kayla Cote7 days ago

Interesting article, thank you for sharing.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E10 days ago

correction
" You have come here with yet another identity"

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E10 days ago

@ Jacey mack
"luna" ? from California ?
Your extremely poor use of the English language, spelling, sentence structure etc., leads me to think you are have come here with yet another identity.
Not to mention your pathetic lack of knowledge.
You should be gone soon.

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Jacey Mack
Jacey Mack10 days ago

Bill Arthur fetuses are babies so when u end a fetuses life so when u end a pregnancy you murder a baby. thats all abortion ever is murdering a baby and in term since you said its murder to kill a baby, you are correct murdering a fetus is murder so your correct abortion is murder fetuses are living breathing babies.

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pam w
pam w10 days ago

Abortion IS health care, Kay! Have you ever seen a woman so ill with pregnancy-related nausea that she's not only dehydrated but severely malnourished? We had a Planned Parenthood patient who was there for an abortion AT HER DOCTOR'S RECOMMENDATION! How about a young mother whose contraceptive failed, leaving her pregnant with two children at home and no child support to provide for them? She was suffering from severe anxiety (who wouldn't be?) That abortion was health care. And ''fetus'' is a word to describe a developing structure which cannot live on its own, outside the maternal body. Are you considering it a ''baby?" If so...how many funerals have you attended for miscarried fetuses? How many little coffins? How many graves?

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Kay B
Kay B11 days ago

Calling a baby a fetus and calling an abortion healthcare may make some people feel better about doing it but it doesn't change the truth.

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Tania N
Tania N11 days ago

Thank you for sharing

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