Dreaded late term abortions are hardly any of the abortions in the US

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: in the U.S., nearly 90% of abortions are performed in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and less than two percent are performed after 21 weeks.

I got thinking about this when I read posts about an atheist pro-life group on Hemant’s and Libby Anne’s blogs. Now, it sounds like this group has embraced some really terrible attempt at a secular argument that a single fertilized egg cell is a person… but it did make me think about the one plausible secular argument against abortion, the “what’s so magical about birth?” argument aimed at late-term abortions.

There are a lot of things you could say about this argument, but I think the most important thing to say (in a modern U.S. context) is what I said in the first sentence. Third trimester abortions are not where the battle lines are in the current fight over abortion in the U.S., and if you think they are you’ve been duped by anti-choice propaganda. Concern for third-trimester fetuses is a terrible reason to align yourself with those who would deny women the right to control their bodies at every stage of pregnancy.

Also, with late-term abortions being so rare, you’ve got to suspect that the circumstances under which they are happening are pretty damn unusual and an area where the government should be careful about dinking around.


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  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    The problem is that this argument works against you, because if late term abortions really are so rare then pragmatically there’s no reason not to make them illegal; it will have a minimal impact on the women that you are trying to protect, and will alleviate most of the concerns of the middle-of-the-road people who feel uncomfortable about unrestricted abortions at any poitn in a pregnancy.

    Thus, the reply to “Why would you ally with people who want stronger restrictions?” is “Because you, for some reason, want NO restrictions, which we don’t agree with.”

    • Mogg

      It does no such thing. In most places where abortion is legal there are strict guidelines for late term abortions and they are only performed for extreme situations – those where the mother or fetus are at risk of death or severe injury, the fetus is dead or seriously deformed, and so forth. In other words they are only performed in exactly the kind of situations which *need* to be legal in order to not massively increase risk or prolong suffering. The situation for places where abortion is legal without restriction does not show an increase in late-term abortions (if you have a look around the internet for rates of abortion at gestational age of 20 weeks+, they are around about 1% in the US and other western countries with more restrictive laws for late-term abortions), so why restrict something which even when allowable is so extreme that practically nobody uses it except in dire need? The rate of dire need isn’t likely to change.

      • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

        So then the question would be what the problem would be with making those guidelines law? Again, if you say that those are the only cases where it happens and the moderates agree with leaving those cases legal — as most who take the moderate position tend to do — why would it be a bad thing to place that into law?

        The problem is that the counters you make here seem to concede at least for the sake of argument their concerns, since the counters are trying to make them feel that the cases they don’t want to see happen don’t actually happen. But in that case there’s no reason for you to insist that making those cases illegal impacts anyone, at which point they’d have to wonder about why you would resist actually making those cases that by your argument never or at least rarely happen actually illegal so that they never legally happen, at least.

        • Mogg

          Erm, not really sure what you’re trying to say, there. I live in a country where those restrictions *are* law in every state, some states restrict all through a pregnancy to requiring a medical reason, and no state allows abortion after 24 weeks unless there are strong medical reasons. It’s a situation that’s common in many countries. Perhaps I should have originally said law in the first place, as in the law only allows late term abortion if the situation meets strict guidelines.

          I don’t see any reason why a country without them requires them, though, as there is no evidence that they are necessary to protect anyone. Why make a law if it isn’t required? I would also be worried about that law, if put in place, “creeping” and slowly getting more restrictive, examples of which can be seen even in the US over the last year.

          • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

            Well, your counter seems to be that if they aren’t really happening, we don’t need to have a law or, rather, that we don’t need to make sure that the law covers those cases. If someone says that the definition of murder should indeed cover this sort of case — as opposed to making a new law about abortion specifically — what is your counter? Saying that they never happen anyway, again, does not in any way address the concern of those who think that the law should be explicit in this case. And the reply that it might cause creep isn’t a good one either, since it turns into a “slippery slope” argument that all laws are potentially vulnerable to.

            Essentially, if you are arguing with someone who says that the law rightly should cover these cases, the instant you say that it doesn’t happen anyway you weaken the case for saying that it shouldn’t simply because you are choosing to not oppose their contention, but simply argue that it is unnecessary … which they don’t agree with for reasons that are likely not merely practical.

        • thorarin

          Personally I would oppose those laws because the risk of misuse to either prevent abortions (potentially even ones legal even under those laws) or to try to bully women seeking abortions into not having them or to force the women to face unnecessary shame, discomfort, inconvenience or risk. They would also encourage anti-abortion doctors and institutions to attempt to delay abortions until they were no longer legal forcing women to either seek illegal abortions or birth children that they have already decided that they don’t want to or cannot raise. Even with no intentional misuse of the laws by the anti-abortion camp, they could still inadvertently cause delays to medically necessary procedures to ensure compliance with the laws. Basically, even if I agree with you in principle, we have guaranteed negative outcomes and numerous potential negative outcomes all to solve a problem that barely exist and therefore have minimal possible positive outcomes.

          • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

            I’m not sure that the laws should be written — or, in this case, not written — based on assuming that people will flout the intention by following the word. Most people will argue that the law should then be written to take that into account, with limits on delays and so on. As for the delays, one would hope that the laws would be written properly to cover that off, and as has been pointed out above other jurisdictions already have it in place. This smacks of arguing that if the law isn’t perfect it shouldn’t be put into law, which again can be raised against all laws.

    • jose

      “if late term abortions really are so rare then pragmatically there’s no reason not to make them illegal”

      That’s the case in most of western Europe. We have time limits as a general rule and then exceptions. In Spain for instance the limit for free abortion is 14 weeks. Lethal danger for mother or incompatible-with-life malformations are requirements for abortion up to week 22. From week 23 on, you can’t have it in any case. There’s more than enough time to detect whether the pregnancy is going all right by week 22. I’m surprised it’s different in America.

      • Peter B.

        “There’s more than enough time to detect whether the pregnancy is going all right by week 22.”

        That’s a blatant falsehood. Preeclampsia and uterine cancer sometimes necessitate an abortion beyond the 22nd week of pregnancy. Severe fetal deformities may likewise be diagnosed this late.

        Further, “most of western Europe” does allow late term abortions for medical reasons, as a cursory web search would confirm.

    • ecolt

      Actually, there is very good reason not to make them illegal.

      The vast majority, and I mean VAST, of late-term abortions are performed to protect the health or life of the mother.

      The idea that women just wait seven or eight months to decide to terminate the pregnancy is a myth. Almost all late-term abortions are performed because there is a serious problem with the development of the fetus. In most cases it is clear that the child will not survive much past birth, if it is born alive at all. The decision to abort is made because carrying to term would pose a threat to the mother.

      Very often, late-term abortions are conducted on pregnancies that were very much wanted. However the family has to make a difficult and painful decision to have this child, one that they know has little to no chance of survival and will probably live its short life in pain, or to protect the mother. Even if we make an exemption and allow late-term abortions when the life of the mother is at risk, this does nothing to protect her health. Mothers can survive serious infections, trauma, etc., even if their overall health and quality of life decline. And in many of these cases, carrying to term can lead to future infertility. For couples who desperately want a child to give up the ability to have a healthy live baby in the future, just to deliver one that is still-born or has no chance of surviving more than a few days, is heartbreaking and cruel. Also, as we saw recently in Ireland, an exemption to save the life of the mother does not always ensure that doctors will make the right choice on when it is necessary to intervene. These exemptions will lead to women’s deaths, whether because doctors don’t follow policy or because they underestimate the severity of the situation.

      So there is very good reason not to outlaw late-term abortions. That reason is that living, breathing women and families are more important than some mythic ideal of the “sanctity of all life.”

  • Rover Serton

    why you would resist actually making those cases that by your argument never or at least rarely happen actually illegal so that they never legally happen, at least

    Really? Make them illegal when they are most critical for life of the mother? Unbelieveable.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      You seem to have missed the part in that very comment where I pointed out that making them illegal with exceptions for the life of the mother and crucial birth defects would be considered reasonable by most moderates, so I wouldn’t in fact make any case where it is critical for the life of the mother illegal. So, it is of course unbelievable that I would suggest what I explicitly did not suggest.

      • eric

        Sounds almost like you agree with the original (1973) Roe v. Wade legal framework, which was (paraphrasing):
        First trimester: state cannot regulate
        Second: state can do some limited regulation
        Third: state can regulate pretty much at will, but must always allow it if the mother’s life is threatened.