Knowing your time frame can help you plan your appointment safely.
Whether or not you’re thinking of getting an abortion right now, you might understandably have questions about the process. Even though abortion legislation continues to make headlines in the news — take Texas’ Senate Bill 8 (SB8), a law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2021 — the process of obtaining an abortion gets confusing when you look at the specifics. Depending on where you live, abortion laws could be very restrictive or fairly lenient, which is why it’s crucial to figure out your state’s current laws and regulations as soon as you can. Beyond understanding how and where you can get an abortion, if you’re curious about how late you can get an abortion, you should know it depends on a variety of logistical factors.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming more difficult to get an abortion in many parts of the United States, especially across the Southeast and Midwest. “2021 has been the worst year on record for abortion rights, with politicians passing over 100 abortion bans and restrictions — more than any other year since Roe v. Wade was decided,” Jessica Arons, senior advocacy & policy counsel for reproductive freedom at the ACLU, tells Elite Daily. “What we’re seeing is a tale of two countries, where approximately half the states ensure access to abortion care without too many obstacles, but the other half of the states are doing everything in their power to push abortion care out of reach — even though abortion is still legal in all 50 states." As soon as you consider having an abortion, it’s worth looking into your state’s restrictions even if you haven’t yet made up your mind. Getting an appointment on the books can take time, especially if you live in a state with complicated legal roadblocks to abortion access. It's safest to understand the potential time frame as you consider whether abortion is right for you.
Abortion Laws By State
To learn about the current laws in your state, start by referencing the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that provides specific information about abortion regulations in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. You can learn how late you can get an abortion in your state, whether there is a mandatory waiting period, and how much the procedure will likely cost. This interactive graph by NARAL Pro-Choice America also provides an overview of the anti-choice measures in effect in each state.
As of October 2021, 43 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute. One state (Texas) imposes a ban at six weeks of pregnancy, technically defined as six weeks after the start of the pregnant person’s last menstrual period. Twenty-one states impose a ban somewhere between 13 and 24 weeks after the last menstrual period, and 20 more states prohibit abortions after "fetal viability," or the point at which a fetus may be able to survive outside the womb. (This exact amount of time varies by pregnancy, but it's usually somewhere between 24 to 28 weeks.) One state (Virginia) bans abortions in the third trimester, or 25 or more weeks after someone’s last menstrual period.
In addition, 33 states require a pregnant person receive counseling before getting an abortion, and 26 states impose a mandatory waiting period between the counseling and the actual procedure. If the counseling must be provided in-person (as 13 states require), that could require a pregnant person to make two separate trips to the clinic.
The future of abortion in several states is uncertain — as of Oct. 4, 2021, U.S. states have enacted 106 abortion restrictions so far this year, the highest number since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. The federal response has been equally concerning: The United States Supreme Court has thus far declined to strike down SB8 in Texas (the justices will review challenges to the bill on Nov. 1). “The Texas ban has been catastrophic, forcing people to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion or continue a pregnancy against their will,” Arons says. “Several states may pass Texas-style copycat bills in the next year, which could effectively cut off access to abortion in entire regions of the country.” These laws will continue to face legal challenges from advocacy groups like the ACLU, but in the meantime, it's especially important to educate yourself on your options.
How To Find Abortion Care
If you're able to make an appointment with a gynecologist or reproductive health clinic in your area, they can help you learn about the laws in your state. “The first thing you should do is call your regular healthcare provider, let them know you are trying to figure out your options, and ask them if they provide abortion care,” explains The Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, former President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. If they don’t, you can call the National Abortion Federation’s referral hotline (1-877-257-0012) to help find your nearest abortion provider. Arons suggests ineedana.com, an online service that uses your age, ZIP code, and the date of your last period to determine the closest clinic that can provide care in your specific situation.
One thing to watch out for when you’re looking for abortion care are crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) — clinics run by anti-choice activists who have been accused of trying to counsel women out of terminating a pregnancy. Heartbeat International, a network of pro-life pregnancy centers, confirmed to Elite Daily that their CPCs provide consultations for women who are pregnant and considering their options, adding they do not provide abortion care and denying the claim their centers coerce women out of getting abortions. To ensure you're able to access abortion care, use a reputable source like the National Abortion Federation or Planned Parenthood to find a clinic.
Scheduling Your Abortion
To help understand when you need to schedule your abortion, you'll want to figure out how far along you are in your pregnancy. “The first thing to do is try to figure out your exact gestational age (how many weeks you are), which will help you understand which options are available to you,” Dr. Colleen Denny, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells Elite Daily. There are several free pregnancy calculators online that can help you guess your gestational age based on the date of your last period, but Denny says the only way to know for certain is to get an ultrasound. Your healthcare provider or another local provider should be able to help you with this — you don’t have to go to an abortion clinic to get an ultrasound.
You can also take an at-home pregnancy test to determine whether or not you're pregnant, but Denny recommends seeing a doctor for an ultrasound before you make the final decision to get an abortion. "[Pregnancy tests are] definitely not at all useful for patients trying to determine how far along in a pregnancy they are," she explains. Even if you use a test like Clearblue that claims to tell you how many weeks pregnant you are, the test cannot detect your gestational age after three weeks of pregnancy. "Most people don't take a pregnancy test that early unless they're really, really trying to get pregnant," Denny says. If you're experiencing an unexpected pregnancy, it's likely you wouldn't realize it until several days after your first missed period — which could be up to five or six weeks into your pregnancy. If you live in a state like Texas that is extremely hostile to abortion rights, this could already put you near the cutoff for accessing an abortion easily in your area. This is why it’s essential to act quickly once you think you might be pregnant.
Once you’ve confirmed your gestational age via ultrasound and decided an abortion is the right choice for you, set up an appointment and ask your provider how long the entire abortion process will take. If your state has a mandatory waiting period, you'll want to be as informed as possible so you can get the process started ASAP. It could last multiple days and take some logistical planning, especially if you're traveling a long way to get your abortion. Some states and counties have paid sick day laws to allow people to take time off work to care for their health, which includes getting an abortion. This spreadsheet from the National Partnership for Women & Families can tell you more about the laws in your area.
Funding Your Abortion
If you have a private insurance plan, your provider will likely cover all or some of the cost of an abortion, which may range from a few hundred dollars to around $1,500 or more (before insurance). You can call your insurance company for details on this. If you are still on your parents' insurance plan and don't want them to know about your abortion, you'll have to check the confidentiality laws of your specific insurance provider. This can be done by calling the customer service number on the back of your insurance card.
Keep in mind that if you are a minor, you may need parental consent to get an abortion. “Unfortunately, most states force young people under 18 to involve their parents in their decision to end a pregnancy,” Kimberly Inez McGuire, Executive Director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, previously told Elite Daily. “Most of these states require the consent or notification of only one parent, though some states require the involvement of both parents.” This list by Planned Parenthood will tell you the specific regulations in your state, or you can call your local clinic for more information.
If you don't have insurance, or you don't want to use your parents' plan to cover the abortion, look into applying for money through an abortion fund. These organizations can help support the financial and logistical burden of getting an abortion. While they may not be able to cover the entire cost, they can often help you figure out a way to make the procedure more affordable. The National Network of Abortion Funds has a step-by-step guide to learn whether you qualify for funding and who to contact.
Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, the process for getting an abortion may vary a bit. While these guidelines differ by state, here’s how it typically works. “If you are early in your pregnancy ([usually] up to 10 weeks), you have the option of either taking a series of two medications or of having a procedure,” explains Dr. Maya Bass, family medicine physician in New Jersey and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. The medication abortion is a series of two pills: The first, mifepristone, is administered by the doctor to stop the pregnancy. You’ll take the second pill right away or up to 48 hours later, depending on your doctor's recommendation. It contains misoprostol, which causes your uterus to empty. “The average cost of a medication abortion is around $500, but it can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to $1,000,” Dr. Gillian Dean, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, previously told Elite Daily.
“As you get further along in the pregnancy, the medication is less effective, and so a procedure is typically recommended," Bass says. "Both options are extremely safe ,and the decision is based on the patient's unique situation and choice.” Depending on when you get your surgical abortion, it may cost a bit more: “An in-clinic abortion, sometimes known as a surgical abortion, in the first trimester can cost can cost a few hundred dollars to $1,500,” Dean said, “[and] a second-trimester abortion usually costs more.” Both medication and surgical abortions are around 98% effective at ending a pregnancy, according the National Abortion Federation, and the risk of complications is extremely low. The FDA has approved abortion pills as safe and effective to use.
If you are able to travel to get an abortion, you can go to a neighboring state if you cannot access care in your state due to tight restrictions. “Providers in one state can legally take care of a patient who usually lives in another state where a procedure would not be legal,” Denny says. If travel is difficult for you due to financial or job restraints, contact the National Network of Abortion Funds to inquire about funding. Some organizations (like the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama and the Texas Equal Access Fund in Texas) provide funding for abortion seekers in one specific state, and the national network can connect you to these groups.
No matter your situation, the most important thing you can do is take action as soon as you’ve begun even considering abortion as a potential option for an unwanted pregnancy. While there are resources out there to help you even if your state laws are restrictive, it is generally easiest and safest to obtain an abortion as soon as possible. Remember that abortion is medically safe and effective, and there are professionals who can help you through every step of the process. Reach out to your healthcare provider or a reputable reproductive health organization in your area and ask all the questions you need to feel comfortable and confident moving forward.
Jessica Arons, senior advocacy & policy counsel for reproductive freedom at the ACLU
The Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, former President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation
Kimberly Inez McGuire, Executive Director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
Dr. Colleen Denny, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health
Dr. Tristan Emily Bickman, board-certified OB-GYN
Dr. Gillian Dean, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America
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