Abortion “Until the Day of Birth” Is Almost Never a Thing
It’s one of the most frequent claims made by antiabortion lawmakers: That abortion rights supporters favor allowing abortions literally until the end of pregnancy.
“Frankly I think it’s unethical and immoral to allow for abortions up until the day of birth,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said at last week’s GOP presidential primary debate.
At that same debate, entrepreneur-turned-presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy noted that voters in his home state of Ohio had just passed a constitutional amendment that, he said inaccurately, “now effectively codifies a right to abortion all the way up to the time of birth without parental consent.”
The Ohio election, in which 57 percent of voters in what’s lately been a red state chose to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, has abortion opponents reeling. In addition, Virginia voters gave Democrats control of the state legislature, effectively rejecting Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plans to ban abortion after 15 weeks, while Kentucky voters reelected Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear after he highlighted his Republican opponent’s support for the state’s abortion ban.
Combined, the election results put in question whether voters will accept even post-15-week abortion bans outside the most conservative parts of the country. Scott, the most vocal proponent of a federal 15-week ban in the GOP primary, suspended his campaign on Sunday.
But do some expectant mothers really opt for abortions as late as the day they’re due? Hardly, says Katrina Kimport. Most women who undergo later abortions wanted their pregnancies to continue, she said, “and it’s very upsetting to be mischaracterized in these public settings and maligned.”
Kimport should know. A medical sociologist and professor at the University of California at San Francisco, she’s one of the nation’s top experts on abortions later in pregnancy, having carried out in-depth formal interviews with more than 50 women who terminated pregnancies after 24 weeks (roughly the time a fetus is viable outside the womb). She said she’s spoken with at least 20 more informally.
(Take note: There’s no such thing as a “late-term” abortion. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, late-term refers to the period after 40 weeks, when the pregnancy has exceeded full-term. The Associated Press in 2022 changed its stylebook to read: “Do not use the term ‘late-term abortion.’”)
The number of abortions performed after viability are vanishingly small. Only about 1 percent occur after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and most of those, Kimport said, are before 24 weeks. More than 93 percent are performed at or before 13 weeks. So what about those abortions at “the time of birth?”
For one thing, there’s almost no one in the U.S. who performs abortions so late in pregnancy. “There are only three providers publicly known to offer abortion after 28 weeks,” Kimport said.
Women who seek abortions later in pregnancy generally do so for two reasons, she said. One is new information: They find out something they didn’t know earlier about their own health or the fetus’s, or they don’t realize they are pregnant.
In the latter case, it’s not just teenagers. One woman Kimport interviewed was in her 40s, and had a series of health issues that involved taking medications “with side effects that included weight fluctuations, irregular periods and nausea.” She didn’t take a pregnancy test until 25 weeks.
The other main reason some women seek abortions later in pregnancy is that they tried to access it earlier, but faced barriers. Those include having to travel to another state, getting an appointment, raising money for the procedure, and navigating things like two-visit clinic requirements or parental-involvement laws.
A later abortion is a big deal, both medically and financially. The later in pregnancy an abortion is performed, the more complex — and expensive — it becomes. It often takes multiple days, and many women end up going through a full labor and delivery anyway. The procedure can cost as much as $30,000 late in a pregnancy, according to the group Who Not When, which tracks later abortions. That may or may not be covered by health insurance.
For women who have had such procedures, it was “emotionally complicated,” Kimport says. And they don’t appreciate how politicians “insult their decision-making.”
But given that public support for abortion declines the later in pregnancy it happens, don’t expect antiabortion forces to give up this particular talking point anytime soon.
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