- „Late-term“ abortion has been in headlines in recent weeks, thanks in part to a newly passed New York law that allows abortions after 24 weeks in cases of fetal anomalies or when necessary to protect a mother.
- Experts say there are misunderstandings about abortions done later in pregnancy.
- These abortions are rare and typically happen for medical reasons, like fetal anomalies or conditions in which the mother’s health is threatened, Dr. Kristyn Brandi told INSIDER.
- „[It’s] really heartbreaking for people that have a desired pregnancy,“ Brandi said. „They feel like it’s the only or the best option that they have.“
Last month, New York passed the Reproductive Health Act, a new law that permits abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases when a mother’s health is at risk, or when the fetus isn’t viable, the New York Times reported. (Previously, the state’s law allowed abortions after 24 weeks only if the mother’s life was at risk, the Associated Press reported.)
Also in January, a Virginia state lawmaker introduced a bill that would have rolled back restrictions on third-trimester abortion when a mother’s physical or mental health was at risk.
Together, the Virginia bill and the New York law the have ignited conversation on so-called „late-term“ abortions, spurring outcry from some conservatives and anti-abortion advocates, the Times report added.
In an op-ed published in the National Review, for example, Vice President Mike Pence characterized the new law and the Virginia bill as the „shameless embrace of a culture of death.“ In an interview with the BBC, Christina Fadden, chair of the anti-abortion organization New York State Right to Life, said she was „extremely saddened“ that New York’s new law passed.
But medical professionals say that some opposition to „late-term“ abortions relies on myths and misunderstandings about the procedure and why it’s typically done.
„Late-term abortion“ isn’t a term doctors use
„Unfortunately, a lot of the politics around abortion are being [discussed] by people who aren’t from a medical background and don’t necessarily have the expertise around these issues, and using terms like ‚late-term‘ is a great example of that,“ Brandi told INSIDER.
„For me, when I hear ‚late-term,‘ that refers to a pregnancy that is about a week after its due date,“ she added. „I’m not sure why it was adopted, and I think that leads to a lot of misinformation.“
Instead, she said, doctors typically describe these abortions in specific terms, noting exactly how far along a pregnancy is, or by using a phrase like „later in pregnancy.“
Later abortions are not common
Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that abortions occurring later in pregnancy are not common.
In 2015 (the most recent year for which data was available), 638,169 legal abortions were reported to the CDC. About 91% of those abortions were performed at or before 13 weeks of pregnancy, 7.6% were performed between 14 and 20 weeks, and just 1.3% were performed at 21 weeks or later. The percentage of later abortions has remained low since 2006, the CDC data show.
They typically happen for medical reasons
Some people opposing New York’s new law have argued that there are no medical reasons for later abortions. But doctors who have provided abortions disagree.
„This is an incredibly rare occurrence, but when it happens typically it’s either because [there is] some type of fetal anomaly that’s not consistent with survival after the fetus is delivered, or because something is going on in that patient’s health, and the further along they stay pregnant, more dangerous it is to their health,“ Brandi said.
Brandi said fetal conditions that might indicate a later abortion include anomalies of the heart, brain, and lungs.
There are also some instances when pregnancy or pregnancy complications can threaten the mother’s health or life. One example, Brandi said, is when a pregnant person’s water breaks too early, which can lead to infection and sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection.
„There’s also things like high blood pressure that can worsen in pregnancy that can lead to a patient having a heart attack or a stroke or a fatal seizure,“ she said. „People think of pregnancy as this natural process, but it can change a person’s body drastically, and in some people, it’s very dangerous to stay pregnant. In those cases sometimes terminating a pregnancy is the only thing that will save their life.“
In a recent viral thread on Twitter, gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter also addressed medical reasons for abortions.
„I’ve done abortions after 24 weeks, she wrote. „I have never done one that was not medically indicated. I was never approached by any woman to do a non medically indicated abortion…Anyone, especially any doctor, who says these are not [medically] indicated is wrong.“
I’ve done abortions after 24 weeks.
For several years I lived in a state with no gestational age limit.
I have never done one that was not medically indicated.
I was never approached by any woman to do a non medically indicated abortion.
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) January 26, 2019
And in a subsequent blog post, Gunter railed against the idea that New York’s new law will result in more people casually seeking later abortions.
„This does not mean that ladies who just forgot their eight-week abortion who are now struggling to fit into their pants can get their better-late-than-never abortion,“ she wrote. „It means doctors can do the right thing medically if the situation arises.“
Brandi also echoed this view.
„A lot of what I’ve heard in the media is that women are just going to flood in and try to seek abortions in the third trimester now that it’s legal. I don’t think people realize the individual scenarios that lead patients to make that decision.“
Finally, Brandi explained that abortion is a safe procedure.
„Typically, it’s actually safer than delivering a full term pregnancy for that patient,“ she said.
Later abortions can be ‚heartbreaking‘ for people with wanted pregnancies
Brandi recalled one recent case in which a patient with a wanted pregnancy had a fetus with a heart anomaly. That anomaly would have prevented the fetus’s heart from pumping blood after birth, she said.
„Many patients that come to me for these indications, they’re doing what they can to have a humane outcome,“ she said. „It’s really heartbreaking for people that have a desired pregnancy. They feel like it’s the only or the best option that they have.“
„It’s a really challenging decision and its something that patients need time to think about and deserve time to think about,“ she added.
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Source: business insider