Why “Late-Term Abortion” Should Be Legal, Accessible, and Safe

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Breaking news, Trump lied about another thing! Shocking, I know. Today, I’m going to talk about the most recent lie as of this recording. Since this recording is going up a few days late, there have probably been 15 more egregious lies but you know, I can only keep up with so much bullshit. Trump is the Gish Gallop in human form. I mean, now that Duane Gish is dead. Anyway, Trump Tweeted, “Biden and Democrats just clarified the fact that they are fully in favor of (very) LATE TERM ABORTION, right up until the time of birth, and beyond – which would be execution.”

Like…what? No. Jesus christ. That didn’t happen. Anyone who believes that happened is an idiot. No politician in the United States is “fully in favor of” abortion AFTER BIRTH. Like, can you even imagine? A woman gives birth to a healthy baby, says to the doctor “actually never mind I want an abortion” and the doctor says “oh okay!” and he just…chucks it in the garbage. Sorry, baby! I guess you should have come out cuter? That doesn’t happen. It just…doesn’t happen. In fact, the only situation I can imagine that is even close to that is what happened in China when the government enacted their one child policy. It wasn’t parents choosing to kill babies that had already been born — it was the government trying to legislate women’s bodies. Huh.

Trump’s Tweet is just a repeat of the lies he told the March for Life back in 2018, when he accidentally said a truthful thing: “Right now in a number of states the laws allow a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month. It is wrong, it has to change.” He actually meant to say that states have laws allowing a baby to be aborted in the ninth month, which is wrong. The US actually has no federal laws against late-term abortions, so a state wouldn’t need to make a law allowing them, though most states do have restrictive laws against them. Let me tell you why the lack of a federal law is a good thing and why states should change their laws to be as permissive as possible in the instance of late-term abortions: because the vast majority of true “late-term” abortions are necessary and tragic, involving pregnancies that are wanted by the parents. The rest only happen because of our regressive, restrictive abortion laws.

To start, let’s talk about what is a “late-term abortion.” There is no solid medical definition — it’s a phrase that is meant to be political and to scare you. In the US, it’s popularly considered to be any pregnancy that goes past 21 weeks, since that might be when a fetus becomes “viable,” i.e. able to survive outside the womb with enough medical intervention. But it’s not, really, because no babies born before 22 weeks’ gestation have ever survived, and of those born at 23 weeks only 2% survived without serious impairments. That number only rises up to 30% at 25 weeks. This is why politicians use the phrase “late-term” — the average person may hear that and think of a fully formed baby exiting the womb, but in fact he’s about the size of a banana and still needs another four months of gestating in order to be born healthy.

So who is getting late-term abortions, and why? Well, data suggests that only about 1.2% of all abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks. And past that, the CDC doesn’t even bother to break down the numbers for later abortions because they are so incredibly rare. Dr. Jen Gunter dug into the data back in 2016 to try to figure out how often third trimester abortions happen. Back then, the latest data on record was from 2012. She found that “Of the 699,202 abortions reported to the CDC in 2012, 0.17% were at or after 21 weeks and occurred in a state where it was possible to have a post viability abortion for any reason.”

Of all the abortions after 21 weeks, why are the patients seeking out that procedure? Research shows that for all abortions past 21 weeks, people report two main reasons for needing the procedure: about half of them have a fetus they want to keep and bring to term, but they didn’t realize that there were terrible problems with the pregnancy until it was further along. (Dr. Gunter notes that an estimated 80% of all third trimester abortions are due to fetal abnormalities.) The other half wanted an abortion earlier but weren’t able to get one because of a lack of access to basic healthcare.

So yeah, if you’re worried about truly “late term abortions,” you’re worried about less than a quarter of one percentage of all abortions (600). If you want to cut down on 20% of those (120), you’re going to want to increase poor people’s access to healthcare options so they can use birth control and then get early, first term abortions in case of accidents.

If you want to cut down on the other 80%, or about 480 abortions each year, you’re going to have to support medical research that will enable doctors to identify fetal abnormalities earlier in the pregnancy. But you’re never going to get rid of all of those abortions because frankly pregnancy is dangerous as fuck, for both the fetus and the person carrying the fetus. There will always be tragic mistakes, but I can assure you that there will never, ever be Democrats encouraging doctors to kill babies after their born. That appears to be reserved for the party that loves taking away affordable daycare, universal healthcare, school lunch programs, sex education, and policies that might have prevented 200,000 Americans (and counting) from dying from COVID-19.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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