He cautions against artificial deadlines because they mean people have a very limited window to detect, diagnose, and decide how to proceed with their pregnancy. "If we suspect a problem, things like genetic testing, MRI, consultations with a specialist, and second opinions can take several weeks. By that time, they're getting to 24 weeks or beyond," Chasen says. A woman could find out that her fetus wouldn't live outside the womb, but not be able to terminate because her state has a ban on abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization and she can't afford to travel to a state that doesn't.
Only 1.3 percent of abortions in the United States happen at or after 21 weeks, yet those procedures have become a critical battleground in the war on abortion access.
A recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union identified other such cases of women who get caught in the gap between Roe v. Wade and New York's state abortion laws, but it also illustrates what happens around the country: Women having to pay to travel out of state to get an abortion that's banned where they live.The NYCLU report, titled "Critical Conditions: How New York's Unconstitutional Abortion Law Jeopardizes Women's Health," includes the stories of a woman diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, a fetus that had a massive brain hemorrhage in the third trimester, and one that would die just minutes after birth.Even the most strident anti-choice advocates might feel sympathy when there are serious health issues at stake. But there are many other reasons why women have abortions after the first trimester. In one case outlined in the NYCLU report, a 12-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted, and her parents didn't discover she was pregnant until the 26th week. "For a number of reasons—including shock and stigma—women and girls who have been raped may seek care later in pregnancy," the report reads.
Anti-choice lawmakers are trying to get around Roe v. Wade's protections by falsely claiming that fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks.
Under the Hyde Amendment, which House Republicans are pushing to make permanent law, federal funds can't be used for abortion unless the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or is a threat to the mother's life. This rule affects low-income women and teens insured by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program as well as reproductive-age women with disabilities insured by Medicare.
There are plenty of reasons why women have abortions in their second trimester, like diagnosis of a fetal abnormality, needing to save up for the procedure, having to wait for an appointment, or being a victim of rape.
Julie Bindeman, a Maryland-based reproductive psychologist, knows what it's like to go through this. At 20 weeks pregnant, doctors discovered something wrong with the development of the baby's brain ventricles, which was causing excess fluid in the brain. Bindeman learned that if her child made it to term (the very best-case scenario), he'd immediately need what would be the first of many operations to relieve pressure on his brain. He could potentially live for several decades, but would have the mental development of a 2-month-old. "The thought of having a child that was a shell of a human being was crushing," Bindemen recalls.Although she was still under the 24-week mark to have an abortion legally in Maryland, she faced another unexpected complication: George Tiller, one of the few so-called "late-term" abortion providers in the country, had recently been murdered by an anti-choice activist, and she couldn't find a provider in Maryland who would do a D&E after 20 weeks. Instead, she was induced at 21 weeks and endured an 18-hour labor to deliver a stillborn baby.Bindeman became pregnant again a few months later, only to discover the fetus had the same rare brain anomaly and the same prognosis. This time she was 19 weeks along and was able to have a D&E, and the experiences were vastly different. With her previous termination, she gave birth to a stillborn in a traditional hospital setting, surrounded by happy women delivering healthy, full-term babies—and it came with all the pain of labor. The ability to have a D&E meant she'd be able to stay out of the maternity ward; she had a surgical, two-day outpatient procedure. (Bindeman and her husband now have three healthy children.)While politicians battle over legislation, abortion-rights advocates maintain their position that this choice shouldn't be linked to a timeline, nor is it up to lawmakers to judge anyone's life circumstances. "We shouldn't assume that those who need care in the second trimester don't deserve it as much as those who can obtain it in the first trimester," says Miller of NIRH. "These are critical, life-altering decisions that should not be forced upon anyone."Read This Next: There's Only One Abortion Clinic Left in this State
Lawmakers are even more emboldened under the new administration, which includes staunch anti-choicer Mike Pence.