Any time that a woman discovers that she is pregnant, she is faced with life-altering circumstances. The news of her pregnancy may come as a dream-come-true that brings joy and excitement, or it may an unwelcome and even frightening realization that is met with confusion and trepidation. There are many reasons that a woman may consider having an abortion, and when it comes to a late term abortion those reasons can be even more confusing.
Before making the decision as to whether or not to undergo a late term abortion, there are important questions that women faced with this choice will want to have answered.
WHEN IS A PREGNANCY CONSIDERED “LATE TERM”?
This is another one of those debatable questions for an already controversial topic. Late termination of pregnancy (TOP) or “late term abortion” is an abortion performed during the latter stages of pregnancy. Some sources say that any abortion after 16 weeks is considered a late TOP, other sources indicate that late term refers to a pregnancy after 20 weeks.
Late term abortion is even more controversial than abortion in general due to the fact that later in a pregnancy the fetus is more developed and more likely to be viable. (Viability refers to the ability of a fetus to survive outside the uterus.) The exact date of gestational viability varies between women. Some fetuses are viable as early as 21 weeks, but nearly all are viable after 27 weeks.
WHY WOULD ANYONE WAIT SO LONG TO HAVE AN ABORTION?
Although late term abortion is far less common than first semester abortions, there can be quite a few significant factors that arise later in a pregnancy that influence women to undergo late TOP. As a pregnancy develops it becomes more and more difficult to make any choice other than to give birth, but sometimes the pressures can become overwhelming and at times even life-threatening for the mother. Some of the reasons for late term abortion include:
- A woman may not even realize that she is pregnant until late in a pregnancy, or she may have misjudged how far along the pregnancy has developed.
- Some women find it extremely difficult to make arrangements for an abortion, including for financial reasons.
- Young women may be extremely afraid to tell their parents until it is late in the pregnancy.
- Some women waiver back and forth in the decision to have an abortion until late term.
- A woman may have been pressured not to have an abortion.
- Sometimes circumstances change greatly after a woman gets pregnant.
- Many fetal abnormalities are not diagnosed until late in the pregnancy.
- Women can become sick with life-threatening conditions such as pre-eclampsia.
IS LATE TERM ABORTION LEGAL?
Laws prohibiting late term abortion vary by geography. Many countries around the world (including the U.S.) allow late term abortion only under special circumstances, such as if the pregnancy is risking the woman’s life or her physical or mental health. Other exceptions that allow late TOP include malformation of the fetus, and cases where the pregnancy was a result of rape. In the United States, laws concerning late term abortion are different state-by-state.
WHAT PROCEDURE IS USED TO PERFORM LATE TERM ABORTION?
There are at least three different kinds of medical procedures used to terminate a late stage pregnancy.
- Dilation and Evacuation – Dilation of the cervix and surgical removal of contents of uterus.
- Inducing Labor – Artificially stimulating childbirth.
- Intact Dilation and Extraction – Dilation so fetus can be removed intact.
D&E surgical abortion is also used after a miscarriage to ensure the uterus is completely evacuated so as to prevent infection. Labor induction is often used when a pregnancy goes beyond 42 weeks or pre-eclampsia is present. Intact Dilation and Extraction (IDX) has the lowest rate of use and is also the most controversial form of abortion, known as “Partial Birth Abortion.”