Why do women get late-term abortions?

Most women do not "love abortion."

“The reality is that that is not the typical patient I see[.]”

Abortions after 20 weeks have been banned in Texas. We are now hearing the familiar argument that all late-term abortions are done because there is a serious health risk for the mother or a major disease or deformity of the baby.

pregnantpiercingSome time ago, Abby Johnson, former clinic director in the largest Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, addressed this issue by saying:

… it is false to say the women who choose late-term abortion do so because of medical reasons. We referred hundreds of women to abort their babies after 24 weeks…not one was for medical reasons.

This is first handtestimony from a former abortion provider. Of course, some pro-choicers might be hesitant to accept what a pro-life figure has to say. So let’s turn to some studies:

In 2003, Katha Pollitt, who is pro-choice, wrote an article for The Nation discussing late-term abortion. She gave the three most common reasons why women had these abortions (1):

71% didn’t realize they were pregnant

48% had difficulty making arrangements

33% were afraid of telling parents or partner

The study she cites allowed for more than one answer, and these were the most common reasons given.

A study in 2006 in Perspectives of Sexual and Reproductive Health, a publication of the Alan Guttmacher institute, which has been affiliated with Planned Parenthood throughout its history, conducted a study of hundreds of women who had second-trimester abortions (the second trimester ends at 27 weeks). It came up with the following results:

68% had no pregnancy symptoms

58% Didn’t confirm the pregnancy until the second trimester

45% had trouble finding abortion provider

37% unsure of date of last menstrual period

30% had difficulty deciding on abortion

Believe it or not, the study sample did not contain a single case of abortion for health reasons.

This data indicates that late-term abortions are usually elective. Has it always been this way? In 1998, a survey was sent out to clinics that did late-term abortions. According to data from the 18 clinics that responded:

Only 9.4 percent of late abortions at clinics that responded to the U.S. News survey were done for medical reasons, either to protect the mother’s health(a rare situation) or, more commonly, because of fetal defects such as spina bifida and Down’s syndrome (box, Page 32)…for post-20-week abortions generally, about 90 percent were classified by the clinics as “nonmedical. (2)

It further quotes a clinic worker saying that most of these abortions are done on teenagers  in “total denial” of their pregnancies (2).

In a 1990 article in The Los Angeles Times, a worker at a late-term abortion clinic described the typical late-term abortion patient:

These women know they are pregnant, but not until the 16th or 17th week, when the fetus is kicking and bothering them, do they say, ‘Oh, I have to deal with this.’ (3)

She goes on to defend these patients and says:

They don’t lead organized, routine lives. (3)

Sometimes abortionists and clinic workers who are still performing late-term abortions reveal the fact that most of them are elective. In his response to a 2012 article about a proposed national ban on abortions after 20 weeks, a law similar to the one that just passed in Texas, one practicing abortionist said (emphasis mine):

Thanks for this piece. It resonates with me deeply as a provider of abortion care and as an “out” advocate of reproductive justice, the framework most cogent with your remarks but least known by people moved by this issue. To your point, when advocates have sought stories from me to make the case for abortion, it has always been a request for tragic circumstances, the stories felt to be the most likely ones to move opinion. The reality is that that is not the typical patient I see, as most women having abortions are not raped or are not carrying a lethally flawed fetus, and yet I have not identified a clear distinction between women I am willing to help and those I am not based on “acceptability” of circumstance.” (4)

Pro-choicers like to parade women with the most tragic circumstances before the camera and claim that they are typical of those having late-term abortions. In reality, that does not seem to be the case.


  1. Katha Pollitt “In the Waiting Room” The Nation April 21, 2003
  2. “When Abortions Come Late in Pregnancy” US News and World Report. Jan 19,1998 Vol 124 Issue 2
  3. LA Times, The Abortions of Last Resort, 1-7-1990
  4. Tracy Weitz “What do responses to the Washington DC 20-week abortion ban tell us about the habits of the prochoice movement?” ANSIRH blog, July 25, 2012
  5. “Second Trimester Abortion: Logistics and Lack of Symptoms are Factors” Perspectives of Sexual and Reproductive Health Volume 38 No 2, June 2006
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