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News & Politics News & Politics

The Firestorm Over Late-Term Abortions

Posted by on Apr. 30, 2013 at 6:17 PM
  • 41 Replies
130429-witw-bronx-abortion
Pro-choice supporters of women’s right to have an abortion line the sidewalk outside the Dr. Emily Women’s Health Center March 12, 2011, in Bronx, New York. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty)

Reproductive Wars

The Firestorm Over Late-Term Abortions

An exposé of a Bronx, New York, clinic purports to show ghoulish late-term abortion practices. Michelle Goldberg investigates how the videos are misleading—and why some women feel the need to seek out the procedure in the first place.

Last summer, when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my son, I went for a 3-D ultrasound that would tell me if he had any serious physical abnormalities. In the days leading up to it, I was seized with anxiety that something would go wrong, and it was the deepest sort of relief to see each healthy part of him in turn—fingers and toes, heartbeat and brain, liver and stomach. I could even see, sort of, what his face would look like. At that stage, a fetus appears quite human. Not that I referred to him as a fetus. I am very pro-choice, but I already spoke of him as my baby.

Once a fetus has gestated to five or six months, most people, whatever their politics, can see its inherent human value. And so, after suffering a serious political setback in the 2012 election, the anti-abortion movement has been smart to refocus attention where it’s strongest, on the very small percentage of abortions that take place late in pregnancy. These are the cases where instinctive revulsion easily overshadows concerns about women in crisis.

First came the campaign to increase attention to the ghoulish Kermit Gosnell trial by accusing the media of covering it up. Now comes the follow-up—a series of video exposés of late-term abortion providers by the anti-abortion group Live Action that purport to show, as the Live Action website says, that “Gosnell is not alone.” In fact, the videos do nothing of the sort, revealing no illegality or disregard for patient safety. But that doesn’t really matter. Any time the details of late-term abortion procedures are pushed into the spotlight absent any context about the reasons women have them, it’s a victory for the anti-abortion movement.

Not long ago, the anti-abortion movement was in danger of looking like a millstone around the neck of the GOP. In the months before the election, we saw fights over personhood for embryos and abortions for rape victims. On both issues, most people’s moral intuition conflicts with the movement’s rigid ideology. Republican extremism on abortion cost the party at least one winnable Senate seat, and left Mitt Romney running away from the movement during the general election, where he ran ads designed to make him look pro-choice.

Late-term abortion, by contrast, is an issue where the anti-abortion movement can garner widespread popular support. “What I think people are looking for when they hear both sides talk about abortion is the sense of, do people feel any sense of limits or boundaries?” says Frances Kissling, president of the Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy and a longtime abortion rights activist. “For those who are opposed to abortion, are they opposed to all abortions, all the time? At five days of pregnancy, no matter what the reason is? Because most people are mixed on the subject, they tend to reject thinking that is at the extreme end of yes or no. I think the same thing happens when those of us who are pro-choice are put in the position of stretching our limits.”

Late abortion is horrible. We should acknowledge that before we discuss why it happens and why it's sometimes needed.”

Certainly, the videos by Live Action appear to show abortion provision at its most extreme. In secret recordings made at clinics in the Bronx and in Washington, D.C., women nearing their third trimester pose as abortion seekers and repeatedly ask clinic workers what will happen if their abortions failed and their babies are born alive. In the Bronx, New York, a clinic intake worker tells the undercover activist that, if the fetus is moving or breathing after the procedure, it would be put into a jar of “solution” that would make it stop. In Washington, D.C., a doctor tells another woman that if her fetus survived the attempt at abortion, he would let it expire. “Legally, we would be obligated to help it to survive,” he says, but adds, “it’s all in how vigorously you do things to help a fetus survive at this point.”

The way all this is presented is somewhat deceptive. Live Action posts both short, edited versions of its videos as well as unabridged recordings. In the full recordings, we see that in the Bronx, the woman also meets with an abortion counselor, who contradicts what the less-qualified intake worker says. The doctor, she says, “cannot do a termination once it’s outside of the body. He has to resuscitate it and he has to send it to the hospital.” Then the counselor urges the woman to rethink her decision: “Are you sure this is what you’re comfortable doing? Are you sure you want to do a termination?” She asks whether the person’s problems that made her want to end her pregnancy can be rectified, and suggests she talk it over with a friend. In other words, she’s sensitive and responsible.

But pointing this out is unlikely to blunt the visceral impact of the videos, because ultimately, what they reveal is something we all already know—late abortion is horrible. We should acknowledge that before we discuss why it happens, and why it’s sometimes needed.

Women do not have late abortions cavalierly. The vast majority of abortions—98.5 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute—are done before 20 weeks. There’s not very much research about the 1.5 percent of abortions that happen after 20 weeks, but a significant number are done when a wanted pregnancy goes horribly awry. If my 20-week ultrasound had revealed a baby without prospects for a tolerable life, I would have joined the sad sorority of women for whom a late abortion is hardly a choice at all. You can read their stories on websites like A Heartbreaking Choice.

Then there are those who are simply desperate, often because of the lack of access to decent reproductive health care. Diana Greene Foster, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the University of California, San Francisco, co-authored a forthcoming paper looking at more than 200 women who had abortions after 20 weeks for nonmedical reasons. According to Foster, two thirds of them were delayed while they tried to raise money to pay for a termination. Twelve percent were teenagers, some of whom went months without realizing they were pregnant. These are people who were failed by our health system. “Public financing and private insurance coverage would make abortions happen faster,” says Foster. “We’re moving in exactly the wrong direction from that.”

We would be far better off with a system like that in France, where abortion is limited after 12 weeks but freely available and fully subsidized before then. Late-term abortion can be truly problematic. That doesn’t mean that the anti-abortion movement is the solution.

by on Apr. 30, 2013 at 6:17 PM
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Replies (1-10):
blues_pagan
by on Apr. 30, 2013 at 6:23 PM
1 mom liked this

It is sad to me when people have to use trauma and emotion in order to make a point, those are the two most unreliable factors when making a decision.

rccmom
by Gold Member on Apr. 30, 2013 at 6:28 PM
3 moms liked this

I get tired of of the villifying woman who make that choice, and all the misinformation about late term abortions, as if women and dotors are heartless monsters. 

gludwig2000
by Gina on Apr. 30, 2013 at 6:34 PM
I believe that deciding on a late term abortion is one of the most difficult, horrible things that most women or doctors would go through, and I seriously doubt that it is done without great pain.
Quoting rccmom:

I get tired of of the villifying woman who make that choice, and all the misinformation about late term abortions, as if women and dotors are heartless monsters. 

blues_pagan
by on Apr. 30, 2013 at 6:39 PM

That is all they have.  They have nothing else other than to work up peoples emotions and make them feel bad for the "baby" without realizing that the "baby" probably wouldn't have made it very far once it was delivered.  That is why they have to hide certain facts, ignore others and completely spin things to make them fit their view.

Quoting rccmom:

I get tired of of the villifying woman who make that choice, and all the misinformation about late term abortions, as if women and dotors are heartless monsters. 


kcangel63
by Amanda on Apr. 30, 2013 at 7:08 PM
Late term abortion. Is that where they can abort up to their due date?
blues_pagan
by on Apr. 30, 2013 at 7:31 PM

No, it is where the fetus is over 20 weeks or so.  It is usually only used when there is serious injury or death to the mother or if the fetus has little to no chance at life or has some other disability that would be non compatible with a good life.

Quoting kcangel63:

Late term abortion. Is that where they can abort up to their due date?


kcangel63
by Amanda on Apr. 30, 2013 at 9:53 PM
Ok. I wasn't sure if that was late term or partial birth, or maybe even something else. It's not something I generally talk about.

I wanted to make sure before saying anything. IYKWIM.


Quoting blues_pagan:

No, it is where the fetus is over 20 weeks or so.  It is usually only used when there is serious injury or death to the mother or if the fetus has little to no chance at life or has some other disability that would be non compatible with a good life.

Quoting kcangel63:

Late term abortion. Is that where they can abort up to their due date?


kcangel63
by Amanda on Apr. 30, 2013 at 9:55 PM
Btw - Yes, I do know what partial birth abortion is. I am VERY against that. However, I believe it is illegal in all states. Correct?
Analeigh2012
by Silver Member on Apr. 30, 2013 at 11:21 PM
I saw the LiveAction woman on Fox News last night showing very deceptive clips of the whole video. But to Bill O'Rielly's credit, he said they showed the abridged videos LiveAction provided due to time constraints but encouraged people to go see the entire video. Then he went on to contradict her two cases - the Bronx one and the DC one. As he stated - the women who went into the Bronx clinic was 23 weeks and the law allows up to 24 weeks. And in DC, there are no fetus age restrictions. While I find late term abortion criminal, I have an acquaintance who recently went into labor at 20 weeks and delivered her sleeping baby girl who suffered with anencephaly (no developed brain / typically missing part of the skull). Heartbreaking situation. And an instance where I could see even myself having an abortion late term if that is when I found out. She did not chose to abort.
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Analeigh2012
by Silver Member on Apr. 30, 2013 at 11:30 PM
Yes, although that isn't really a type of abortion - just the slang for it. It is something like dilation and extract. (?) anyway. Illegal since 2000ish in all states. Although if there is no other way to deliver the fetus, this method can be approved on an exception. It is deceiving because people hear that and think partial-birth = live baby. I have only heard of this method used when the fetus is dead and the woman unable to deliver. They artificially dilate the cervix and reach in with instruments and extract the fetus.

Quoting kcangel63:

Btw - Yes, I do know what partial birth abortion is. I am VERY against that. However, I believe it is illegal in all states. Correct?
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