Abortion is the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus to end a pregnancy. Generally, there are two ways to end a pregnancy via abortion: an in-clinic procedure or the abortion pill. For many moral, ethical, religious, and political reasons, abortion is controversial in many countries.
Abortion is a relatively common procedure in the United States. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were about 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017. This is a 19% decline from 2011 when 1,058,000 were performed. Analyses have shown that abortion restriction, while harmful at an individual level, were not the main reason for the decline in abortions between 2011 and 2017. The decline in abortions seems to be part of a broader decline in pregnancies, evident in fewer births during the same period. The states with the highest abortion rates are the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida.
Abortion Laws in the United States
Abortion laws permit, prohibit, restrict, or regulate the availability of abortion.
The Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade states that governments cannot regulate a woman’s decision to have an abortion before the viability of the fetus. Viability is defined by the Supreme Court as the “the capacity of meaningful life outside the womb, albeit with artificial aid” and not just “momentary survival.”
After viability, which is around 24-28 weeks, no government can impose a regulation that favors a fetus’s life over a mother’s. Despite this decision made by the Supreme court, the nation has divided into passion pro-life and pro-choice camps.
In recent years, some states have been proposing legislation to further restrict abortion earlier than fetus viability. States have recently introduced the “heartbeat” bill, which prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy or when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
In many cases, in the United States and around the world, restrictive abortion regulations do not always lead to lower abortion numbers. In some cases, abortion rates may actually be higher; however, restrictions could mean that more unsafe, illegal abortions are being performed. This causes complications and higher risks, such as death, for the mother.
States that Allow Late-term Abortions
A late-term abortion, also called a late-termination of pregnancy, refers to the termination of pregnancy by induced abortion during a late stage of gestation. “Late” is not precisely defined and medical publications have stated different thresholds, typically ranging from 20 to 28 weeks or around the fetus reaches viability.
Currently, 43 states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy. Several states, such as California, Arizona, and New York, use fetus viability as the cutoff, while some other states use the third trimester (around 28 weeks). Other states use a specified number of weeks post-fertilization, after a women’s last menstrual cycle, or after gestation. These weeks range anywhere from six to 20 weeks.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of August 1, 2020, 24 states prohibit some abortions at a specific gestational age.
While other states have threshold restrictions for late-term abortions, all states have exceptions and allow late-term abortions when pregnancy threatens a woman’s health, physical health, and/or life. The exception of “physical health” permits abortion when the woman suffers from a “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” In the following states, the pregnancy must threaten the mother’s life to permit a late-term abortion: Idaho, Michigan,and Rhode Island. In the following states, the pregnancy must either threaten the mother’s life or health to permit a late-term abortion: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Virginia, and Washington.
In the following states, the pregnancy must either threaten the mother’s life or physical health to permit a late-term abortion: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
In Arkansas and Utah, late-term abortions are permitted in cases of rape or incest. Late-term abortions are almost permitted in case of fetal abnormality. In Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia the law applies to a lethal abnormality.