As we speak (or, as I write), several state legislatures are considering proposals that would restrict “late term abortions.”  Over the years, the pro-life movement has focused on abortions that are performed in the later stages of pregnancy.   That’s a good strategy on their part.  I’d do the same thing if I were them.  But let’s delve into this a little more deeply. 

I’ll get right to the tough one for the pro-choice movement:  third trimester abortions, abortions after 24 weeks, abortions on a viable fetus.    

You’ve seen the graphic pictures of aborted fetuses on pro-life websites and placards.  I haven’t the foggiest idea where those pictures came from but, let’s face it, they do depict what the fetus looks like in the third trimester.  Anyone who has given birth knows exactly what I’m talking about.   But here’s the catch:  only about 100 of these abortions are performed every year and they are performed on wanted pregnancies. 

In just about every state, third trimester abortions are illegal except in cases where the woman’s life or health is endangered or, in some states, where there was a fetal abnormality.  So, a woman having an abortion at that late stage is there because something has gone terribly awry.  It is truly a sad situation.  Pro-lifers suggest that these abortions are performed for less-than-serious reasons.  They love to say that a girl can get an abortion “just before birth” because she “could not fit into her prom dress.” The fact is that any woman seeking an abortion at that stage for a reason like that would be turned away.  There has got to be a very compelling reason.       

Then, we get into another touchy area for defenders of legal abortion – abortions performed between 13-24 weeks.  Approximately 9% of the abortions in this country are performed in the second trimester.  The bottom line is that a woman at this stage can go to a clinic and get an abortion with no questions asked, i.e., there does not have to be a “compelling” reason like the ones required in the third trimester.  What makes these abortions so touchy for some is that they are performed later in the pregnancy when the fetus is clearly taking shape.  Indeed, if that pregnancy was wanted, it would definitely be referred to as a “baby.”        

Then, about 91% of all other abortions are performed at 12 weeks or under.

We all wish that if a woman is contemplating an abortion, that she have it done as early as possible.  For obvious reasons, it will be a less emotional experience and, yes, it would be less expensive.    

However, I want to suggest that the pro-life movement might be responsible for a number of these later abortions.  Think about it…

The women who get these abortions are disproportionately poor or young.  So, say you’re a woman on Medicaid and you learn you are pregnant.  If you could just go to a clinic and hand them your Medicaid card, you would no doubt get there as soon as possible.  But, because of federal law, you are suddenly faced with having to raise about $400-500 for the abortion and that could take you several precious weeks.  At the same time, a pregnant minor who lives in a state that requires her to get the consent of her parents might delay that process if she feels she cannot talk to them.  While we hope that every minor could go to her parents, without any such laws she could go to a clinic right away as well.    

We encourage women to have abortions sooner rather than later if possible.  And the pro-life movement should think a little more about how their legislative agenda might actually be the cause of more late-term abortions.