What Everyone Needs to Know About Later Abortions

29 Jul

Most of us don’t think we’ll ever have an abortion, until we join the other half of all women in the US who has an unwanted pregnancy. And if we think about it at all, we assume we’d get an abortion pretty early in the pregnancy. While 90% of abortions do happen before 12 weeks, some women seek abortions later in their pregnancies.

Most women do not try to have later abortions. In fact, in a study done by Finer et al, nearly three fifths (58%) of women in the survey reported that they would have preferred to have had the abortion earlier than they did. In another study done by Drey et al, 29% or one third of women who ended up having abortions during their second trimester were in their first trimester when they made the first call to an abortion clinic. If this is the case, what causes women to have second trimester abortions?

First, let’s learn a bit about second trimester abortions. Drey’s study outlines the following basic information:

  • One out of every ten abortions performed in the United States happens during the second trimester
  • Second trimester abortions carry an increased risk of complications and are more expensive to obtain then first trimester abortions
  • The American public tends to favor restrictions on later termination abortions

These restrictions vary state by state. In some states, like California and New York, Medicaid can cover the cost of an abortion. In others, such as Pennsylvania, Medicaid funds are forbidden from covering the procedure unless the woman is a survivor of rape, incest, or has a medical condition that threatens her life. And in other states still, Medicaid and private insurances are banned from covering abortion no matter the situation. This means that if a woman doesn’t live in a progressive state and if she doesn’t have health insurance that covers an abortion, she will have to spend time raising money towards the cost of her procedure. Depending on how long this takes, the cost of the procedure could go up weekly (as it often does in the second trimester). In the world of abortion funding, this is called “chasing the fee” and is kind of a Dante-esque hell. The longer she waits to have the abortion and the more time it takes her to raise the money, the more the abortion will cost, causing her to have to raise more money and further delay the procedure.

There are other types of anti-choice legislation that can affect a woman’s access to abortion services. She often has to jump through hoops to be able to make an appointment for the procedure. This could be anything from a 24-hour waiting period from the time she makes the appointment to the time of the procedure, getting parental consent, spousal consent, a mandatory counseling session, signed doctor’s notes, or sessions before a committee or before the police. Many women barely have time to schedule a full day clinic visit, not to mention dozens of hours spent making sure she abides by these laws. This means taking hours or days off of work, arranging childcare, and arranging travel, not to mention other logistics.

Who are these women who have later abortions, and why do they have them? According to Drey’s study, women who have later abortions tend to be young and of low-income status. Specifically, Dryer found that women under 18 took longer to identify pregnancy symptoms and poor women had to delay their abortion because they had to make arrangements, such as raising money, getting childcare, or transportation to the clinic.

Finer found very similar causes of delay. Second trimester abortion patients, according to his study, were significantly more likely to say that it took them a long time to make arrangements to have the abortion. This is because there are many abortion providers who only provide abortions to 12 or 14 weeks, and the number of providers decreases further later in pregnancy. Many states have NO abortion providers after 14 or 16 weeks. In addition, second-trimester patients were significantly more likely to indicate that they were delayed because they needed time to raise money for the procedure and because it took time to talk to their parents.

Other women have abortions in their second trimester because they need more time to make their decision. According to Finer, 60% of women stated that someone helped them come to their decision to have an abortion. What these women may not know is that once they go into their second trimester, the cost of an abortion usually increases every week. It is not clear that women with later pregnancies know the consequences of delaying their decision.

The Finer study also finds that “poor women took a significantly longer time from first trying to obtain the abortion to actually having it. When compared to white and Hispanic women, black women reported significantly longer time periods.” Why might this be the case? Poor women, who are often women of color, may have to take more time to raise the money towards the costs of the procedure. The more time they take to raise the money, the further they are in the pregnancy, and the further they are in the pregnancy, the higher the cost of the procedure. Again, this is an example of “chasing the fee.”

Another important part of the Finer study found that women with two or more children took more time to access abortion services. Why? They have to arrange childcare and have childcare-related expense. Higher income women and women 30 years old and over reported less time between deciding to have an abortion and going through with the procedure. Why? Because these women are more likely to have access to resources (money, transportation, lodging) that erase or ease the boundaries faced by poor women.

Finer also observed that if a woman goes to one clinic and is turned away because she is too far along in the pregnancy to have an abortion there, it may take her twice as long, on average, between initially attempting to make an appointment and having the abortion. This makes sense, as she would likely have to gather more money, take more days off work, arrange for transportation, childcare, and possibly even lodging to go to a different clinic, one that may not even be in her state.

Perhaps a woman lives in a state where there is only one abortion provider. She then has to arrange travel and lodging at this destination, along with coming up with the cost of the procedure. A woman’s ability to take the time off required to get to the clinic, whether this means arranging for transportation, renting a car, flying out of state, arranging childcare, taking time off, arranging lodging, you get the picture. If a woman can’t afford a $350 first trimester procedure at a nearby provider and takes too much time raising that money, she then has to deal with the rising cost of the procedure AND travel and accommodations costs.

It boils down to a few things. Women have second trimester abortions because they need to, not because they want to. Why? Because their insurance doesn’t cover abortion, because they needed time to raise money for the cost of an abortion, because they needed to arrange travel/childcare/time off of work in order to spend a full day at the clinic, because they needed time to make the decision with confidence, because they needed to make time to travel out of state to access an abortion provider.

The Finer study concludes by stating that their findings “suggest that gestational age at abortion in the US could be further reduced if financial barriers faced by disadvantaged groups were removed and if women, especially young women, were educated about how to recognize pregnancy.” The links between sex education and pregnancy are clear. The better women are able to identify pregnancy symptoms, the faster they will take a pregnancy test. The earlier they are in the pregnancy, the more time they have to make a decision about whether or not to carry to term without worrying about a significant rise in the cost of the procedure. A first trimester abortion is a safer and less expensive abortion. We must work to eradicate the barriers women face in abortion services. This means:

  • Ensuring that all teens have access to comprehensive sex education (they need to learn to identify pregnancy symptoms)
  • Requiring that ALL state Medicaid insurance plans cover abortion services
  • Making sure that medical schools include abortion care training in their curriculum so women have more providers to choose from
  • Lobbying for protections against anti-choice terrorists who endanger abortion doctors and their patients through clinic violence and threats

We are the women who will need abortions, and we need to learn as much as we can about our bodies and about abortion services so that we can get the abortions we need as early as possible in an unwanted pregnancy. And we need to organize to make sure that abortions are available as late as we need them.

For more information, visit LaterAbortion.org.

Thanks to Susan Yanow for her help with this piece.

6 Responses to “What Everyone Needs to Know About Later Abortions”

  1. Teri Fox July 29, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    According to Finer, 60% of women stated that someone helped them come to their decision to have an abortion. I found this statement interesting. If someone helped them come to their decision, maybe that someone forced or coerced them into something that they did not want to do in the first place.

  2. KushielsMoon July 29, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    60% having help to come to the decision *could* mean they were coerced. Or, it could mean that most women talk through their decision with a partner, a parent, a sister, a cousin, a best friend, a pastor, or a counselor. We should not be so quick to assume that having “help” means they were forced.

    The wording is important. I don’t know if Steph quoted, but she said “60% of women stated that someone helped them come to their decision to have an abortion.” THEIR decision. Not that 60% said someone made the decision for them.

  3. eli July 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    I’m surprise that you don’t mention termination for medical reasons. I know there aren’t many of us out there, but I do think it’s important to point out that most women don’t have any ultrasounds between the 10th and 18th wks. In DC, where I live, the routine anatomy scan is at 20 wks and if your baby has a serious problem, and you need an “elective” termination, you better get it by 22 wks. Just wanted to point out that a lot of women who terminate very late have only a few days to decide. Your post really paints with a broad brush, and overlooks the late second trimester abortions, which are often for planned pregnancies.

  4. eli July 30, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    Just amazes me you can call this “what everyone needs to know about later abortions.” You have no idea what it is like.

  5. Steph July 30, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

    Eli, I’m sorry my post made you feel that way.

    I do not claim to know what it is like to have an abortion at a later point in pregnancy. The point of my piece was not to cover all possible situations of later abortions, but to illuminate some of the less often discussed reasons why women have these later abortions. We often hear about later abortions for fetal anomalies, but not for the reasons I discussed above. This is not to diminish abortions that occur due to fetal anomalies, but to shed light on other reasons a woman may terminate her pregnancy later. Does that make sense?


  1. Tweets that mention What Everyone Needs to Know About Later Abortions | Abortion Gang -- Topsy.com - July 29, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steph Herold, miss elinor, Jackie , Catherine Fairbairn, The Abortion Gang and others. The Abortion Gang said: new post : What Everyone Needs to Know About Later Abortions http://j.mp/a47bdj […]

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