Abortions after 21 weeks gestation are not common, but it is a myth to say they don’t happen. Even the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s notoriously incomplete abortion data reports that in 2020 there were 652 abortions after 21 weeks. This represented 5.7% of abortions where the gestational age was known. It is well documented that a Montreal woman had an abortion at 35 weeks. If she had had a c-section, there is a good possibility her child would have lived.
Whether it’s because the child is viable or just because the child is further along in development, these late term abortions are the abortions that Canadians are generally uncomfortable with. A 2020 opinion poll found that 70% of Canadians thought abortion should be illegal in the last trimester. But Canada has no abortion laws. These later abortions happen, and they are legal.
It’s worth taking some time to understand why these abortions happen. Why would women undergo pregnancy for months before deciding to end the life of their child? The recent article “Is Third-Trimester Abortion Exceptional? Two Pathways to Abortion after 24 Weeks of Pregnancy in the United States” asked this exact question. Dr. Katrina Kimport, an associate professor in California, interviewed 28 women who had abortions after 24 weeks in order to understand their experience.
This is hardly a rigorous study – participants had to phone a toll-free number in order to enroll in the study, meaning only women who were open to taking active steps to talk about their abortion are represented. The author herself admits that she had emotional responses that may have impacted the women she was interviewing. In fact, she cut the study short due to this factor.
While admitting the flaws in her study, the author identified two broad categories for the post-abortive women she interviewed. One was those mothers who received new information. This included women who hadn’t known they were pregnant at all, like Autumn (all names are pseudonyms) who didn’t find out she was pregnant until she was 26 weeks along.
Other new information centered around fetal abnormalities. Rachel found out at 29 weeks (well past viability) that there were abnormalities impacting her child’s brain. The article doesn’t include the official diagnosis, but Rachel refers to the brain as “just pieces missing, concaved.” Rachel concludes that, “There was nothing to say this child has any possibility of having even the capability of existing as a baby, as a child, as a person.”
Kara similarly was given a bad prognosis for her child and said that giving birth “was just beyond what we could in good conscience proceed with.” What she could in good conscience proceed with was killing that child before birth. A third trimester abortion is a brutal process for both the mother and the child. The concern for “what life this baby will have” needs to be juxtaposed by what death this baby will have through abortion. It’s strange to think of that as an option “we could in good conscience proceed with.”
The second broad category the author explores is the “barriers” women experienced that led them to delay the abortion. This gets to the conclusion that the author wants us to agree with: that pro-life policies didn’t stop these abortions, but just delayed them and made things worse for everyone. She concludes that her findings “demonstrate the impossibility of eliminating the need for third-trimester abortion care.” This is because the author cannot envision a future in which fetal abnormalities detected later in the pregnancy are not met with the option of abortion.
But what if we treated every human being as equally deserving of human rights, regardless of ability or disability? If we did, giving that child a chance at life wouldn’t be “beyond what we could in good conscience proceed with.” Instead, injecting them with poison would be the unconscionable path.
That is what pro-life laws are seeking to instill in our culture: a sense of the value of life in all its stages. And despite the assertions to the contrary, pro-life laws work. Secular Pro-life in the US has done a great job compiling research that shows how even relatively simple pro-life laws save pre-born lives. That’s why we continue the work we do, advocating for laws that protect pre-born children.