The documentary “After Tiller” features interviews of only doctors willing to provide third trimester abortions following the assassination of Dr. George Tiller (who had also provided third trimester abortions). The film features multiple pregnancies involving fetal anomalies, but it also presents abortions of healthy fetuses for other reasons.
For example, about an hour and five minutes into the film, a counselor at an abortion clinic talks with Dr. Susan Robinson about a 16-year-old girl who is 25 weeks pregnant. (Generally speaking babies are considered viable at about 24 weeks, although newborns as young as 22 weeks have been known to survive.) The pregnant teen doesn’t want to have a baby, but also believes she will be killing her baby. The clip is currently available on YouTube here, as well as below:
Counselor: “All the years I’ve been doing this Susan, this is only like the second time that I don’t think I can counsel this patient any further. I mean that I can’t be there for her if we go through with this. I rarely give up on a patient, but – okay, she called last week, she was approved by Shelley. There’s her intake there. Let’s go over it real quick. Sixteen years old. She’s 25 weeks today. She hates herself. She’s mad at herself that she let this happen. She’s been pro-life. She thinks this is killing her baby. And then Joan said ‘How are you going to forgive yourself?’ ‘I don’t know if I ever will.’ She’s Catholic. ‘Well will you go to confession?’ ‘Yeah I’ll probably go to confession.'”
Robinson: “How would she forgive herself if she had the baby?”
Counselor: “We talked about adoption. They met with the boy. They met with the boy’s parents. They met with the mother all together. They all want her to have the baby.”
Robinson: “Keep the baby.”
Counselor: “Keep the baby. ‘This is wrong. You’re killing a baby. This is wrong.’ Boyfriend’s parents said ‘We’ll take the baby. We’ll raise the baby.’ But she said she didn’t think she could walk away from the baby, but she doesn’t want a baby. I look at her and I – you know the look in her eyes is just like – well she hates herself. And so is she going to be bitter over this the rest of her life? Is she gonna, you know, try to harm – is she going to become one of these – is she going to become an alcoholic? Is she going to try to do self-harm? You know the antis out there say ‘Oh, you’re never gonna get over this.’ Well this is one. I think that she’s not gonna get over it. If I’m being absolutely honest with you.”
Counselor: “Joan said ‘Well, you know, she’s saying she doesn’t want to have the baby. And she’s saying, you know, maybe she can never forgive herself, and I guess we have to let her have that.”
Robinson: “Right. I mean we’re – we can’t protect people from regret. If she wants. I mean if she-“
Counselor: “I know. But I don’t feel – I can’t participate in this anymore.”
Robinson: “Right. You don’t want to participate. Okay. So you think I shouldn’t do it?”
Counselor: “I don’t – No. I don’t think so. You know, like I said. I can’t make that decision. I can’t. I don’t like it.”
Robinson: “So I – I’ll go talk to her, and what I may say is ‘I want you to go back to the hotel and think this over, and if you come back tomorrow and tell me that this is what you want-‘ I mean that would be, I guess, my fall back position, rather than just send her home to Nevada. To say ‘We’re all uncertain that this is the right thing for you, so I want you to go home – or go back to the hotel – and think deeply about this, and come back and tell us if this is- that this is what you have decided, and what you want.'”
Counselor: “Mhm. But I feel yucky.”
Robinson: “You can’t solve everybody’s problems.”
Counselor: “Well, I know I can’t. But dammit, I want to.”
Robinson: [laughter] “Me too. I want to solve everybody’s problems.”
Robinson goes on to talk to the teen directly. She concludes the teen has clarity and is sure about her decision, and so they proceed with aborting the 25-week-old fetus.
Over the years and to this day, countless pro-choice people have asserted the following ideas about later abortion:
- Later abortion is illegal unless it’s a medically necessary abortion.
- People seek later abortion only if there is a significant threat to the woman’s life or the child has a fatal, heartbreaking abnormality.
- Abortion after viability is just labor induction with intent and often result of live birth.
These ideas are myths, as the above clip demonstrates.
- There are multiple locations in the U.S. (as of my drafting of this post: Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and the District of Columbia) that have no gestational limits on abortion.
- There are clinics which legally provide post-viability abortion of healthy fetuses carried by healthy women.
- Post-viability abortion entails induced fetal demise first (typically either by injecting a feticide into the fetal heart or amniotic fluid, or by transecting the umbilical cord), and birth after.
Note that post-viability abortion still requires the woman to go through labor and delivery. The difference between post-viability abortion and premature induction of labor is that abortion entails killing the fetus first.
When I talk about these myths, pro-choice people often respond with the following strawmen of my points:
- No one is aborting up until the moment of birth.
- No one waits until after viability to get an abortion just “for funsies.”
- There aren’t a whole bunch of women out there aborting after viability. Abortion after 24 weeks is a very small percentage of abortions.
None of these are claims I’ve made, and none of them contradict the reality I described above.
I do believe no one is aborting up until the moment of birth. But in multiple states it’s not actually illegal to do so. Further, people are aborting into the third trimester, and not always for medical reasons.
I don’t think people get abortions “for funsies” at any stage in pregnancy, much less after viability. But the options aren’t limited to (1) threat to the woman’s life/health, (2) fatal fetal abnormality, or (3) “for funsies.”
Research shows women who get later abortions do so for similar reasons as those getting earlier abortions: economic concerns, relationship issues, no desire for children, etc. Certainly some women seek abortion later because of unexpected health concerns or fetal abnormalities. Others seek abortion later because they struggled to get the resources (time, money) to get the abortion earlier, they struggled with the decision about whether they wanted to abort, they had a change in circumstances (such as relationship problems, financial issues), or they did not realize sooner that they were pregnant. None of those reasons are medical emergencies, and they also aren’t accurately described as getting an abortion “for funsies.”
And abortion after 24 weeks is a very small percentage of all abortions, agreed. It doesn’t follow that their occurrence is unimportant. As an analogy, consider the fact that school shootings are a very small percentage of gun homicides per year. Their rarity relative to all gun homicides (much less all gun deaths) doesn’t change the fact that school shootings are horrific events warranting particular concern.
I haven’t claimed non-medical later abortions happen frequently compared to earlier abortions. I’ve argued that they do, in fact, happen, and that aborting healthy, viable fetuses should warrant particular concern.
[Read more – 5 reasons later abortion is worth talking about]