Vice President Kamala Harris said claims that Democrats support abortion up to birth are “ridiculous” and a “mischaracterization” in a September Face the Nation interview, while refusing when pressed to name a legal limit she does support.

Harris is not the only one to dismiss concerns about abortion late in pregnancy. When former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki received backlash for her claim that “No one supports abortion up until birth,” she doubled down, saying, “No one is running on the platform of aborting viable babies,” and “No one is selling late-term abortions.”

Joe Biden said in June that abortions in “the last three months have to be negotiated because you can’t — unless you are in a position where your physical health is at stake — you can’t do it.”

When Chris Christie cited New Jersey law that allows for abortion throughout pregnancy, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski retorted

“It’s not an abortion at nine months, and there’s not a doctor that would do it, and it only happens in extremely severe circumstances. You can come back and bring me the evidence of women across the state of New Jersey having abortions in the ninth month. It’s not happening, Chris, come on.”

Similarly, Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson claimed

“Like Nessie and Bigfoot, the term ‘late-term abortion’ is completely made up. It’s anti-abortion propaganda with no basis in medicine, intended to confuse people.” 

(I wonder if she is unaware that one of her own organization’s locations advertises abortions up to 26 weeks and refers for abortions even later.)

In my experience, such sentiments are not uncommon among the general populace. During my activism across North America, I’ve heard many myths, some contradictory, perpetuated about later abortion, ranging from “Late-term abortion doesn’t exist” to “Late-term abortion is necessary to save women’s lives.” In this series, we’ll take a look at the myths and facts surrounding abortions in later pregnancy, starting with the basics: Do they happen at all?

MYTH: “Late-term abortion” is a made-up term with no basis in reality.
FACT: The terminology and definition of late-in-pregnancy abortion is evolving and ultimately arbitrary.

If McGill Johnson’s claim is correct, the New York Times used “made up anti-abortion propaganda” in its reporting on what it describes as “late-term abortion” in 1997, and so did CNN as recently as 2019. More likely, the term was simply widely accepted in the journalistic community and widely understood by the audience. 

Today, the Later Abortion Initiative, a pro-choice initiative to increase access to abortions in later stages of pregnancy, recommends against the phrase “late-term abortion” because it does not “provide accurate clinical descriptions or contribute to public knowledge about abortion care and the differences at various stages of gestation.” They also reject the designation “second-trimester abortion,” pointing out that there’s no consensus in the medical community as to when exactly the second trimester ends. Instead, they recommend the term “later abortion.”

But even “later abortion” has no set definition. While the Later Abortion Initiative defines later abortion as any abortion that occurs after 18 weeks, infamous abortion provider Warren Hern uses the term to mean abortions in the third trimester, which he considers as starting at 26 weeks. (His website also says those abortions are commonly referred to as “late-term abortions.”)

Since “later abortion” seems no more clearly defined than “late-term abortion” and the latter phrase is more familiar to the public, we’ll use both terms in this series.

As for what constitutes a later or late-term abortion, there seems to be no real consensus there either. However, as the Charlotte Lozier Institute explains, “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s abortion surveillance system categorizes abortions occurring from 21 weeks onward as its highest gestational age category, and the system does not distinguish abortions by week beyond 21 weeks.” The Kaiser Family Foundation notes this is a largely arbitrary cut-off.

All cut-offs in the abortion debate are arbitrary from a pro-life perspective, but because hardline pro-choice advocates continue to push abortion at stages when most Americans oppose the practice, it becomes necessary to address these abortions. Since 21 weeks is also the point at which the earliest documented premature infant has survived, we’ll focus on abortions performed at that stage and later.

MYTH: Later abortions don’t happen.
FACT: From CDC data to academic studies to abortion provider websites to news stories, evidence for abortion beyond 21 weeks abounds.

That both the CDC and the Planned Parenthood–associated Guttmacher Institute track abortions occurring at or after 21 weeks should be evidence enough to conclude that such abortions do indeed happen. A 2012 study in Women’s Health Issues found that 34% of abortion providers in the United States perform abortions at 20 weeks, and 16% perform abortions at 24 weeks.

Further, the data shows that, contrary to what Biden and MSNBC hosts may say, it is not only medical reasons that lead women to seek later abortions. (We’ll explore the reasons for later abortions in greater depth in a future installment.)

Then, there are the abortion providers who advertise later abortions. The Atlantic ran a profile on Warren Hern, a Colorado abortionist who specializes in second- and third-trimester abortions, “usually up until around 32 weeks, with some rare later exceptions.” One of the later exceptions described in the article was a disabled child aborted at 35 weeks. For abortions performed on children up to 32 weeks, according to the article, “the reason doesn’t really matter to Hern.” As Daily Camera reported, Hern “performs late abortions for women who are not facing any grave medical outcome.”

The Later Abortion Initiative lists thirteen providers in fifteen locations across the United States who perform abortions after 24 weeks for a variety of reasons. Some provide abortions as late as 32 weeks, even when the child has no disability.

Clinics for Abortion and Reproductive Excellence states, “Whether you are 5 weeks or 35 weeks, we are here to help you get your abortion.” They perform late-term abortions at their Maryland location. Another Maryland facility offers “procedural abortions” before 26 weeks and induction abortions after 26 weeks—according to NPR, they provide abortions up to 34 weeks.

Southwest Women’s Options in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offers abortions through 24 weeks, according to their website. However, when asked how late they are willing to perform abortions, the clinic’s founder Curtis Boyd, who has admitted he is “killing,” responded, “There’s no set period.” Clinic staff have indicated a willingness to abort a 30-week child developing in a healthy pregnancy. The facility was also involved in the wrongful death lawsuit of 23-year-old Keisha Atkins, who received an abortion there when six months pregnant. The physician who performed Atkins’ abortion admitted under oath that she fabricated supposed health risks indicating the abortion.

A Planned Parenthood in Illinois aborts children up to 26 weeks and provides referrals for abortions even later. Also in Illinois, the Hope Clinic provides abortions until 27 weeks 6 days. A provider in New York City performs abortions until the same cut-off and a Planned Parenthood in upstate New York recently hired a medical director who performs abortions up to 24 weeks. A Massachusetts facility performs abortions until the state’s 24-week limit. The Women’s Centers provide abortion until 28 weeks and 6 days at some of their locations across the eastern U.S.

The DuPont Clinic, which provides abortions in the Washington, D.C. area, outlines their procedures for abortions after 26 weeks, followed by a contact form to request an appointment. The Washington Surgi-Clinic, the infamous facility where the DC Five were found, performs abortions until “27 plus weeks.” In March 2022, pro-life activists recovered the remains of five victims of late-term abortion, some of whom bore injuries consistent with illegal partial-birth abortion.

On the West Coast, the Lilith Clinic, which shares a name with the child-killing mythological figure, offers abortions through 26 weeks in Seattle, 24 weeks in Portland, and 22 weeks in Las Vegas. Another facility also offers abortions up to 26 weeks in the Seattle area. 

According to one study, from January 2015 to December 2016, the medical facilities at the University of California, Davis performed an average of about ten abortions a month on healthy human fetuses at twenty weeks gestation and beyond.

Evidence for abortions at and after 21 weeks, including abortions obtained for non-medical reasons, continually crops up in academic literature, news stories, other media, and even Shout Your Abortion submissions.

Tragically, abortion in the later weeks of pregnancy is not a grotesque fairytale but a grim reality.

MYTH: Later abortions are incredibly rare.
FACT: As many as 12,000 viable children are aborted across the U.S. every year.

It’s true that later abortions make up a small percentage of abortions overall. That is indicative not of the rarity of late-term abortion but of the prevalence of abortion as a whole.

According to the Later Abortion Initiative

“Only 1.3% of all abortions obtained in 2014 were provided at or after 21 weeks of gestation. Although the overall number of abortions in the United States has declined over time, the percentage of individuals obtaining abortions after 14 weeks of gestation has remained fairly constant since the mid-1990s.”

Research from the Planned Parenthood–affiliated Guttmacher Institute also found 1.3% of abortions in 2016 were performed at or after 21 weeks. Guttmacher estimated 930,160 abortions in 2020. That would mean 12,093 abortions took place at or after 21 weeks

As one commentator put it

“Compare that number to the 13,620 gun homicides recorded by the FBI that same year and you might begin to understand the problem. Would any Democrat eager to tout the rarity of late-term abortions in America be similarly eager to shrug off the number of Americans victimized by gun violence?”

State data indicates some states have rates of later abortion far higher than the national average. In New Mexico in 2019, abortions at or after 21 weeks made up an astonishing 12% of total abortions in the state. The same year, 2.4%, or 514, of New Jersey abortions occurred at the same gestational range, as did 2.2% of abortions in New York City, accounting for 1,096 of the city’s abortions. In Colorado, nearly 4,000 late-term abortions were reported between 2003 and 2019.

Some cite data from the CDC, which reported only 0.9% of 2020 abortions nationwide as occurring at or after the 21-week mark. The CDC’s data, however, does not include California, Maryland, or New Hampshire, all of which have liberal abortion laws and the first two of which have documented occurrences of later abortions. It would be reasonable to conclude, along with the Guttmacher, that the actual percentage is higher. But even applying the CDC’s more modest percentage to Guttmacher’s numbers yields an annual total of 8,371 later abortions. 

While later abortions may make up a relatively small percentage of total abortions in the United States, “It doesn’t follow that their occurrence is unimportant,” writes Monica Snyder of Secular Pro-Life. She continues,

“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.”

Given these numbers, somewhere between 23 and 33 preborn children are killed in later abortions every day. Compare that to the size of the average kindergarten class, and one begins to understand why pro-lifers aren’t willing to ignore later abortion.

MYTH: No one supports later abortion.
FACT: Pro-choice politicians consistently promote policies that enable later abortion and oppose policies that would restrict or ban later abortion.

Given the above, it’s clear that any abortion policy that does not explicitly ban abortion at the later stages of pregnancy will result in later abortions.  The existence of the Later Abortion Initiative shows there is, in fact, an explicit push to maintain and expand access to later abortion.

Vice President Harris herself refuses to name a limit she supports and repeatedly sidestepped the question in her Face the Nation interview:

“MARGARET BRENNAN: What is it that you believe? I mean, what week of pregnancy should abortion access be cut off?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: We need to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade. 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which was–
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: We’re not trying to do something new–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that was nebulous, because it was about viability, which could be anywhere between 20 to 24 weeks–
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: — No, no, no, no, no. Let me be very clear–
MARGARET BRENNAN: — That’s, that was in the Women’s Health Protection Act that the White House also endorsed–
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: — Let me be- let me be very clear. From day one, the president has been clear, I have been clear. We need to put back the protections that are in Roe v. Wade into law. Since the Supreme Court took it, Congress has the power and ability to pass legislation to put those protections back in law and Joe Biden will sign that bill. So, that is what we want.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But does it need to be specific in terms of defining where that guarantee goes up to and where it does not, at which week of pregnancy?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: We need to put back in place the protections of Roe v. Wade–“

The interview continues in a similar vein until Brennan gives up and changes the subject. At one point, she asks,

“MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but do you need to be more precise?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I am being precise. We need to put into law the protections of Roe v. Wade. And that is about going back to where we were before the Dobbs decision.”

And where were we before the Dobbs decision? While states could nominally ban abortion after the nebulously defined point of viability, they could do so only with strategically vague exceptions, including the mother’s “emotional” and “familial” health. And the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act touted by the Biden-Harris administration would have taken it further, requiring abortion access to women “regardless of their circumstances and without interference and discrimination.”

There have also been explicit pushes to relax legislation around third-trimester abortions at the state level.

Meanwhile, pro-choice politicians have repeatedly struck down proposed legislation that would ban abortions nationally after 20 weeks, by which point the child can feel pain, and consistently oppose similar measures in state legislatures.

At this point, the insistence that no one supports later abortion is tantamount to gaslighting.

The evidence is overwhelming that, whatever term you use, children at the cusp of viability and beyond are being aborted by the thousands, and pro-choice politicians actively work to keep it legal to do so.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.