Monday, September 10, 2018

Even third trimester abortions are done for non-medical reasons.

We've written before (part 1, part 2) about how most late-term abortions are elective, i.e. performed for non-medical reasons (maternal or fetal).

The data we've been able to find looks at abortions after the first trimester but doesn't get specific about third trimester abortions. It may not even be possible to find quantifiable data on the reasons women abort in the third trimester* because such abortions are relatively rare and highly stigmatized. The third trimester begins at 27 weeks gestation. Abortions after even 21 weeks of pregnancy account for only 1.3% of all abortions.

Source: Guttmacher, accessed September 2018

Conservative estimates put the total number of abortions in the United States at hundreds of thousands a year. In 2014 the CDC had reports accounting for 652,639 abortions, and not all states report their abortion data to the CDC. Even this lower estimate would mean at least 8,400 abortions after 21 weeks. Still, that's a small sample set from a very discreet group, and the number will be even smaller for only those abortions after 27 weeks.

Third trimester abortions are rare enough that there are only four doctors left in the country who perform them in clinics (as opposed to getting one in a hospital). Those doctors are Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella, both of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Dr. Warren Hern of Boulder, Colorado; and Dr. Leroy Carhart of Bethesda, Maryland.

In various interviews, at least three of these four doctors have gone on record explaining that they provide abortions for non-medical reasons. 

In a 2013 interview for The Hairpin, Dr. Robinson explained the women who come to her because they hadn't realized earlier that they were pregnant:
They think they just got pregnant. They have no idea they’re in their 24th week. So they make an appointment for an abortion, and it takes a few weeks, and they have their ultrasound and find out that they’re at 27 weeks, which is too far for an abortion anywhere. So then what happens? They either give up or have a baby, or they go on the Internet and they find us.
Also in 2013, Dr. Sella was interviewed by The Irish Times, which reported:
The women Sella treats fall into two categories: those who discover foetal abnormalities; and those with healthy, viable babies whose maternal circumstances mean they could not cope with the baby.
In 2015, a Colorado-based paper called The Daily Camera interviewed Dr. Hern:
He doesn't share his clinic's statistics and rarely speaks of individual cases, but Hern has said he also performs late abortions for women who are not facing any grave medical outcome.
This information doesn't indicate what proportion of third trimester abortions are for non-medical reasons. In general, at later gestations a higher proportion of abortions are done for medical reasons.

Even so, many people insist no one ever gets an elective (read: non-medical) abortion as late as the third trimester. The doctors providing third trimester abortions would disagree.

*If you have quantifiable data on the reasons for third trimester abortions, please email us at

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