The Necessity of Late-Term Abortions

illustration by Haley Riley

Late-term abortion: let’s talk about it. Abortion in general is something that the public has been fighting over since 1973—a result of the supreme court decision in Roe v. Wade—when a woman’s right to choose was first given protection under the 14th amendment’s right to privacy clause. Now in 2019, we are still fighting, and with this comes the overflow of information and misinformation from both sides of the spectrum in a wash of he said, she said, they said conversations. This pattern makes it even more difficult to get real information and to understand what it is we are really arguing about. Bringing up the topic of abortion can make a room fall silent. Bringing up the topic of “late-term abortion” can send some into a panic as they picture a fully-grown fetus being pulled out of the womb by an unforgivable mother, but this isn’t realistic. The disconnect between what a late-term abortion is versus what it is thought to be is a disconnect that further perpetuates the oppression of women’s bodies and their right to make such difficult decisions.

Knowing the specific laws regarding abortion can better enable a person to draw the line in the sand of when it is legal, when it is necessary, and when it can be the only option between life and death. But even with this, the lines are always blurred because of unforeseen health crises, possible changes in circumstance for the woman, and the unpredictable turns that life can take—all of which could prevent a woman from having a baby. Abortion laws vary widely throughout the country regarding regulation, procedure, and accessibility and these laws are constantly changing and being amended to make it harder for a woman to be able to get the medical support she needs.

illustration by Haley Riley

For example, in 2018 a Mississippi governor signed into law a ban on abortions after only 15 weeks. Even more drastically, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill banning abortions as early as 6 weeks and a similar law passed in Ohio only a few months ago. Though the Mississippi law has exceptions for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormalities, there is nothing stated about rape or incest. These bans weren’t in effect as the Roe v. Wade decision overrides these bans protecting the legality of abortion up to the point of viability; viability is when the baby could survive on its own outside of the womb which usually happens around 20-24 weeks. However, the fact is that a lot of governors are blatantly trying to pass laws that are unconstitutional and offensively restricting to women’s rights. But it’s not only at the state level.

Earlier this year, Trump received criticism for his response to legislation passing New York’s new Reproductive Health Act when he claimed “legislation would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” Not only was this a cruel picture to paint, but it was also incorrect. Across the country, abortions are legal and require that no questions be asked until 20–24 weeks, depending on the state, or until viability. After this, it is considered a late-term abortion and different laws apply. The new legislation passed in New York allows late-term abortions in situations of necessary medical intervention and in cases of extreme deformities or detriment to quality of life of the unborn baby.

After the 24th week of pregnancy, though considered past the window for having a normal abortion, there are a number of reasons a woman may chose to go through with one anyways. In the later semesters of pregnancy, it might be revealed that the mother’s life could be at risk if she chooses to give birth. The fetus could develop a fatal condition or have brain deformations that prevent it from growing properly.

infographic by Haley Riley

For example, Uterine cancer can sometimes only be detected during late stages of pregnancy and while new research is improving the chances that a woman can safely deliver a baby despite the cancer, there are still instances where a late-term abortion could be necessary in order to prevent the spread of cancer to the rest of the mother’s body. Another example is ectopic pregnancy where the egg is fertilized outside the uterine cavity, if gone undetected this could result in death for the mother and the child and a late-term abortion would be the only option to save the mother’s life. Within the womb, the fetus might develop abnormal growths, diseases, or be subjected to many other possible circumstances that would make life impossible post delivery. Situations like these often arise without prior knowledge and a woman shouldn’t be demoralized for choosing to save their own life over their unborn child’s.

One of the main disconnects between those who agree that late-term abortions are sometimes necessary and those who don’t is the absence of the stories of the mothers who undergo these procedures. A lot of the times women don’t speak up about having an abortion that occurred within weeks of their delivery date because of the tragedy of having to say goodbye to a well-developed child they have been carrying for months. Women who seek out late-term abortions almost always want to keep their child, but are left with no choice but to consider an abortion due to these unforeseen medical risks. Having to go through labor and give birth only to be handed your lifeless baby before saying goodbye forever isn’t selfish, it isn’t inhumane, and it isn’t wrong. It is devastating and painful. And women who go through this should be commended for their strength instead of shunned for a decision that was likely difficult to make.

Many believe late-term abortions are especially frowned upon because of the developmental stage of the fetus and the fetus’s ability to feel pain. According to Dr. Mark Rosen, who pioneered anesthesia in fetal surgery, the internal wiring required to feel pain doesn’t develop until after 20 weeks from conception, which is after almost 100 percent of abortions occur. A lot of people who are concerned about late-term abortion are worried that in this process the fetus will undergo extreme pain. Though doctors have not yet been able to completely figure out the specifics of a late-term abortion guaranteed to be harmless to the fetus, the mother’s health shouldn’t be negated as a result of this still-developing aspect of the procedure.

Additionally, it is a lot more complicated than just protecting the mother’s life versus the baby’s life. Most can agree that a woman has the right to protect her own life, even against her own baby, but what about protecting her career and family? In BBC’s ethics guide to abortions there is the obvious decision to get an abortion if the delivery would result in death, but there are also ethics surrounding women getting abortions if taking the pregnancy to full term would lead to mental health damage, financial damage, career damage etc., and how abortions could be necessary in situations which call into question the physical or mental health of mother and baby.

Abortions also happen to be one of the safest medical procedures a woman can go through with only 0.09 percent of patients reporting complications. If the mother had the choice of risking her life in delivering the baby, or going through with a fast and safe operation, the operation can be the responsible choice. All of this information goes without saying that having to make the choice to save your own life or your child’s is very difficult and one that isn’t taken lightly. Being in the position where your baby has turned your body into a war zone, where it has become a fight for both of your lives and your hearts, is something that medical providers do everything to prevent, but sometimes all other options are exhausted. When it comes to having to make these hard decisions and go through a late-term abortion, the best thing to do for the mother and the family is to be supportive and try to remember that she is giving up her baby. Abortion doesn’t mean fetuses being ripped from the womb and it doesn’t mean that it is always preferred by the mother. It is a decision that has to be made based on all the aspects of the pregnancy and what is best for both the mother and family involved from a medical standpoint.

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