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Late-stage abortions: The where, the why -- and the how

June 1, 2009 |  5:30 pm

SignMost abortions, about 88%, occur in the first trimester of pregnancy, or the first 12 weeks. Dr. George Tiller, who was slain over the weekend, performed abortions well into the second trimester, sometimes past the 22nd week.

Most doctors don't perform late-stage abortions. Nationally, only 1.3% of all reported legal abortions occurred at 21 weeks or more gestation. A slightly higher percentage, 3.7%, occurred at 16 to 20 weeks gestation. For a by-the-numbers look at abortion in the United States, as much as it's possible, here's the full report from the CDC.

Included is a state-by-state look at those abortions. Of legal abortions occurring at 21 weeks or more gestation, most appear to be in New York. That state reported 2,956, followed by Georgia with 1,094 and New Jersey at 950. California doesn't tell.

In a 1987 survey of abortion patients, women explained their reasons for seeking later-than-normal procedures. Of those who had an abortion at 16 or more weeks gestation, 71% said they either didn't know they were pregnant or hadn't known how far along they were in the pregnancy.

Here's the abstract, via Pubmed, of that survey, published in Family Planning Perspectives the following year. And here's a broader study of women's reasons for getting abortions, published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2005.

Now for the how. It varies by stage of pregnancy, by the needs of a woman and by the recommendations of her doctor. For a second-trimester abortion, the primary method is dilation and evacuation, more commonly called a D & E. Here's one explainer, from WebMD.

But to understand, more fully, the types of abortion and how they vary by stage of fetal development, there's this from Brown University: Abortion: Methods of Terminating a Pregnancy at Different Stages of Pregnancy and Fetal Development.

This is not an enjoyable read, but it may be a needed one. As the introduction states:

"While the political and moral debates about abortion generally have no root in the medical science of the procedure itself, a correct understanding of the biology of the procedure is necessary for developing educated opinions about the issue of abortion."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: A plant was left Sunday outside Dr. George Tiller's clinic, Women's Health Care Services.

Credit: Kelly Glasscock / Getty Images

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Comments (3)

Puhlease. There is science in the debate. When Roe v. Wade was decided, scientists barely understood DNA. Now, it is indisputable that day 1 and embryo is a whole different organism. What is not scientific about that. The liberal media is blowing this tremendously out of proportion. But they never do that intentionally, right? (Swine flu).

safe sex, use comdoms. abortions will not happen

No man should ever have the right to condemn any woman for an abortion. Women struggled for decades for equality. Ironically, no matter how a man might want to rail against this discrimination, he has nothing that will gain him access to the vote on this issue. Of course, men do vote for or against abortion and women need to recognize that this time they, alone, are the ones with that responsibility.

A woman's health, safety or livelihood might determine the outcome of a pregnancy. To argue for abstinence, protection during sex or any other preventative notion is a moot point when a woman is faced with the decision to terminate a pregnancy. To argue beforehand is certainly valid but, like all things human, mistakes or life happens. The argument that "it's a person, not a mistake" isn't real. That's a blanket presumption that leaves out entire realities.

Is it strictly a liberal viewpoint to support abortion? The answer is "yes".....until it becomes necessary in your own family.


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