Where to Stand on Late Term Abortion?

27 May

A guest post by ninersgal.

My friend recently had a baby. Her pregnancy was difficult. She had gestational diabetes as well as preeclampsia. Her baby was delivered at 30 weeks because there were problems with the placenta. Despite all of those challenges, my friend’s baby went home from the hospital yesterday. Unlike many of her neighbors in the NICU, my goddaughter has had no complications. Her lungs have developed and she can breathe on her own. Her brain is developing normally. And although she was only 2 pounds when she was born, this little fighter is up to 5 pounds now. I see lots of courage and fist pumping in this girl’s future.

My friend got very lucky and had a successful delivery at 30 weeks. However, there were many moments during the last two weeks of her pregnancy where I wondered what would happen. If the doctor had told my friend that the health risks of continuing her pregnancy were too great (either for her, or for the baby) and abortion was her only option, I would have held her hand and supported her. That’s exactly what I did throughout her pregnancy. And if this were the path she needed to take, I would have helped her along the way.

All that being said, spending time in the NICU looking at all premature and struggling babies has given me a lot to think about in terms of late term abortion. Let me preface that statement by saying I support a woman’s right to obtain an abortion no matter what stage of pregnancy she is in, and no matter what her reason is. However, watching the babies in the NICU has helped me see things from the point of view of those who oppose “late term abortion.”

The general medical definition of “late term abortion” refers to abortions that occur after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Most abortions (88% to be exact) occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Late term abortion only accounts for 1.5% of abortion cases in the United States. So we need to remember that when the anti-choice crowd starts to focus on so-called “partial-birth abortions,” they’re intentionally trying to muddle the facts by harping on the least common denominator.

Some states are attempting to restrict abortion access by pushing the cut off date even earlier in pregnancy. In the state of Oklahoma, for example, an abortion is considered “late term” at 20 weeks, and is consequently illegal. However, a fetus at 20 weeks of gestational development is far different than a fetus at 30 weeks of gestational development. That’s a fact.

Let’s put the issue of gestational development aside for a minute and simply focus on the pregnant woman who needs an abortion. (I know . . . I know . . . always putting the woman first . . .) Abortions cost money. It may take a woman several weeks to scrape together the money to pay for an abortion. What happens if she’s at 21 weeks of pregnancy instead of 20? If she lives in Oklahoma, she’ll have to go out of state to get an abortion – raising the cost even more and delaying the date of her abortion even further. This is only one explanation for why women obtain late term abortions (one that 60% of women who obtained late term abortions cited as the reason for delaying their procedure), and it’s a very valid reason.

Back to the fetus. Any number of complications can arise late in pregnancy. I have tried to read articles from medical journals to learn what these health complications are, but I don’t understand the language. Fortunately, Jodi Jacobson provides a good summary of this at RH Reality Check. In my view, the compassionate choice in cases where a fetus has serious health issues is to terminate the pregnancy so that the baby doesn’t suffer when it is born.

I understand why folks support restrictions on “late term abortions.” Little babies in the nursery can definitely tug at your heartstrings – I’m not totally made of stone, ya’ll. However, I don’t support any restrictions on abortion, because it’s not my place to say what’s right or wrong for anyone else when it comes to their healthcare. I don’t need to know the reason why a woman obtains an abortion. All I need to know is if someone wants a hand to hold while they’re going through the process. Or if they need a ride to the clinic, or a couch to sleep on when they travel to get there.

What’s your take on “late term abortion?” I know there is a lot of debate within the pro-choice community about this topic, and I’m always interested in seeing things from another point of view. What factors have influenced your opinion? I’d love to chat with you about it.


6 Responses to “Where to Stand on Late Term Abortion?”

  1. incredikate May 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    I do not think “least common denominator” means what you think it means…

  2. Kathleen May 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Pro Choice is Pro Choice. It should be the decision of the person who is pregnant. End of story

  3. Steph L May 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    I support late-term abortions. The stats have already shown that they make up around 1% of all abortions and are done for necessary reasons. I go with what Dr. Tiller (RIP) used to say on the issue: “Trust Women.”

    I myself am familiar with the scenario. My younger brother was born premature at 6 months (what the exact number of weeks was I don’t know). What he has gone through I would never wish on anyone. He’s blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other – he also has a severe auditory processing disorder that has resulted in significant cognitive delays. We worry about his future and whether he can live an independent life.

    Prior to my brother, my mother had been pregnant and went into early labor at 5 months – the baby had underdeveloped lungs, was unable to breathe and died.

    When it came to my younger brother and complications developed, my parents were informed that abortion was an option, but they wanted to continue the pregnancy. Their decision, nuff said. But I feel I should tell this – while in the hospital they learned from other mothers on the ward that they were all being watched like hawks by certain staff that was ready to serve court papers to anyone that opted for late-term termination and legally delay the procedure until it was too late. Now that just makes me SICK (this was Georgetown Hospital in Washington D.C btw).

  4. ninersgal May 27, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Hi everyone – thanks for joining the discussion. Incredikate, you’re probably right about me getting a math analogy mixed up. I meant to say that late term abortion is such a small percentage of the overall abortion rate – and yet the antis try to make it appear that this is the way things usually go.

    Steph L, it sounds like your parents made a very informed decision. Like Kathleen said – we should trust women. Period. Their opinions are the only ones that matter.

  5. Nonny May 28, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    Until recently, I never really thought too much about late term abortion. I don’t think most people have, since they’re relatively rare, and mostly you hear about them as a political agenda. Until some heart-wrenching essays I read this year, I hadn’t really thought about it since it was a political focus a few years ago.

    Then I read that essay, which I think was also posted here, about the mother whose baby died and she was forced to carry until labor even though there was no amniotic fluid and the baby and her were suffering. I think that one story more than anything else decided me, because NOBODY should have to go through that, NOBODY.

    Having thought a lot more about abortion in general over the past few months (hard not to think about it with the constant barrage of legislation against it), I’m pro-choice and believe we should trust women’s decisions. Her body, her choice. But if I’m being honest, until I actively started thinking and reading about it, there was a lot of misinformation in the back of my mind.

    Slightly veering away but related to the subject — I was also surprised to see a positive depiction of late-term abortion in the medical drama Private Practice recently. The episode (“God Bless The Child” I believe) depicts a woman who turned to a disreputable abortion provider because she was harassed and scared off by the protesters at reputable clinics. The abortion was not completed, and when she sees Addison Montgomery, the OB-GYN on the show, they find out she’s still pregnant, 20 weeks along.

    Like most of their episodes, Private Practice shows both viewpoints, but very strongly presents pro-choice attitudes, in that Addison ultimately does the abortion for the patient once that’s what she decides, and even the fertility specialist who is morally opposed to abortion and tried to guilt/shame the patient out of the procedure comes through in the end. It was very well done, I think, and presents a fairly common scenario: for whatever reason, the woman didn’t get the abortion earlier and she can’t afford to carry the fetus to term (literally, in this case, she works minimum wage and has no familial support).

    There was a lot of backlash against the episode, as there is with anything dealing with late term abortion, but I hope it made SOME people think more about the subject rather than knee-jerking “AUGH BABYKILLING”. *sigh*

  6. Alicia May 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    I’m with Kathleen. Pro-choice is pro-choice. Not my body or my life and I have no place to judge. No matter what her reason, I will fight to the death for any woman to have the right to decide what happens to her body, no matter what she decides.

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