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What is a Late-Term Abortion?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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An abortion is the act of intentionally terminating a pregnancy early. A late-term abortion is one that normally occurs after the first trimester. Such a procedure, when performed legally, is usually done by a licensed physician. Some professionals claim to have the ability to conduct a late-term abortion with little or no pain. Both the difficulty in obtaining this medical procedure and the costs are likely to increase compared to an abortion that is performed earlier.

There is not a strict medical consensus of what constitutes a late-term abortion. Some medical professionals deem termination of pregnancy at 14 weeks to be a late-term procedure. Others may not consider an abortion to fall into this category until a woman has been pregnant for 24 weeks. It is commonly agreed, however, that to qualify as a late-term procedure the termination must occur when the fetus would generally be capable of surviving outside of the womb.

As is the case with abortions that are performed earlier in the pregnancy, a late-term termination is often preceded by an ultrasound. This is conducted to confirm the pregnancy and to allow the physician to determine how long the woman has been pregnant. There are late-term abortion procedures that some professionals claim are virtually painless.

An example of a commonly performed late-term abortion method is the dilatation and extraction technique. This procedure involves a physician inserting laminaria sticks into a woman’s cervix. These sticks will expand and afterward will cause the cervix to also expand. Once this is done, chemicals are used to extinguish the fetus’s vitality, and the fetus is removed from the womb. Sometimes medication is also used to help prepare a woman’s body for this procedure.

These procedures are often conducted in less than an hour, and the patient can generally be released from the physician’s care in approximately one additional hour. These patients are usually advised to return for a check-up several weeks later. There are some risks associated with late-term abortion. These may include excessive blood loss, infection, and psychological problems.

In many jurisdictions, late-term abortion is regulated. This often involves women being restricted from access to the procedure unless their pregnancies are a threat to their health or their lives. The qualifying threats may be explicitly or loosely defined. It is also important to note that obtaining these procedures may require a woman to locate a specialist because many physicians who conduct abortions do not perform procedures in what they individually consider to be the late-term. There is also commonly a substantial increase in medical costs between a standard abortion and a late-term procedure.

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