The New Yorker article “A Safe Haven For Late Abortions” combines the photography of Maggie Shannon with the writing of Margaret Talbot to give a closer look at the abortions performed at Partners in Abortion Care, an all trimester clinic in College Park, Maryland.
(There is no need for a graphic image warning for this article. The photographs focus on the patients and providers, and do not include depictions of the fetuses who are aborted.)
Talbot explains that Morgan Nuzzo (nurse-midwife) and Diane Horvath (OBGYN) had long wanted to open an abortion clinic that performs abortions at all trimesters of pregnancy. They co-founded Partners in Abortion Care, which provides abortions up until 34 weeks. A typical pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, so 34 weeks is between 7.5 and 8 months into the pregnancy.
This New Yorker article serves as a succinct response to several common misperceptions many moderate pro-choicers have regarding later abortion.
“Abortion ‘up until birth’ isn’t a thing.”
Pro-lifers claim abortion activists want abortion available “up until birth.” This statement is true in the sense that many abortion activists believe there should be no gestational limits on abortion, but more controversial in the sense that few pro-choice people are actually comfortable with or would morally accept abortions very late in pregnancy. Yes, they don’t want the government regulating abortion, but generally they don’t believe people seek abortions very late in pregnancy anyway. They think the “up until birth” argument is at best moot and at worst a bad faith red herring.
Every week, potential clients have to be turned away because their pregnancies have advanced beyond the clinic’s cutoff of thirty-four weeks.Margaret Talbot, A Safe Haven For Late Abortions, New Yorker
People do seek abortion very late in pregnancy, even past 34 weeks gestation.
Of course, 34 weeks gestation is not a full term pregnancy. Births before 37 weeks are considered preterm. It’s reasonable to hear “up until birth” as in “throughout the full 40 weeks of pregnancy.” This article does not suggest anyone seeking an abortion at 40 weeks (to my knowledge, no article does).
But it’s also reasonable to point out that abortions of viable fetuses — including fetuses into the third trimester — are legally sought, and do legally happen, specifically in the states with lax abortion laws. Abortion regulation (or lack thereof) matters.
“Third trimester abortion is not happening. It’s called ‘having a baby.'”
There is a lot of debate over how the word “abortion” is defined (and by whom). One increasingly popular pro-choice assertion is that abortion means only “termination of pregnancy,” and does not have to entail fetal death. In this framing, a “third trimester abortion” is just termination of pregnancy via preterm delivery with the intent and result of a live newborn. (See tweet examples: “Third trimester abortions don’t exist. It’s called BIRTH.“)
This framing is incorrect. Abortion after viability is not preterm delivery of a live child. Abortion providers ensure fetal death prior to removing the fetus from the woman. They sometimes do so by transecting the umbilical cord, but more often by injecting poison into the fetal heart or amniotic fluid.
Abortion providers who perform later abortions have been frank about this aspect before, and the New Yorker article confirms the same:
“We induce demise,” Horvath, the ob-gyn, says. “This idea that people are delivering live fetuses—it just does not happen.”Margaret Talbot, A Safe Haven For Late Abortions, New Yorker
“Later abortions happen because the woman’s life is in danger or the fetus has some kind of fatal anomaly.”
Probably the most common pro-choice misperception regarding later abortion is that these abortions are all or nearly all due to dire medical circumstances (either the woman’s life is in danger or the fetus has a fatal anomaly).
We know with certainty that later abortions are not all for medical emergencies. In fact, while there isn’t a great deal of quantifiable data on the subject, what evidence we can gather suggests that abortions after 21 weeks are usually not for fetal or maternal health concerns (see sources here).
The New Yorker article profiles such a case: a woman Talbot calls “Amanda” gets an abortion at 32 weeks because she didn’t realize she was pregnant until 30 weeks.
One woman Shannon photographed, a thirty-six-year-old whom I’ll call Amanda, was seven months along when she came to the clinic. Several years earlier, Amanda had been given a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome, and doctors had told her that the condition made it very unlikely that she could conceive without in-vitro fertilization. Because of the aftereffects of recent weight-loss surgery—nausea when she felt too full—she didn’t even consider that she might be pregnant until almost thirty weeks. When a home test came back positive, Amanda was floored.Margaret Talbot, A Safe Haven For Late Abortions, New Yorker
The article goes on to explain it took Amanda two weeks to make all necessary arrangements to get to the clinic, indicating she aborted her child at 32 weeks. Note that if a child is delivered alive at 32 weeks, he or she has a 95% chance of surviving.
If you oppose gestational limits on abortion because you have believed (1) no one aborts viable fetuses, much less aborts into the third trimester, (2) “abortion” that late in pregnancy is just labor induction resulting in live birth, and/or (3) abortions late in pregnancy are only happening for the most dire of medical emergencies…