If you’ve made the very personal decision to get an abortion, you might be full of questions about the process. Even though abortion laws have been a major topic in the news lately, the process of obtaining an abortion is still confusing, especially when you look at the specifics. Depending on the state you live in, abortion laws could be very restrictive or fairly lenient — which is why it’s crucial to understand your state’s current laws and regulations. Beyond understanding how and where you can get an abortion, if you’re curious how late you can get an abortion, you should know it depends on a variety of logistical factors.
Unfortunately, in the year 2019, having an abortion has become more difficult in many parts of the country, especially across the Southeast and Midwest. "While abortion remains legal in all 50 states, anti-abortion politicians have created a web of medically unnecessary, politically-motivated restrictions in states across the country that effectively push abortion care out of reach for many," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, tells Elite Daily. "These restrictions, whether they ban certain methods, require a patient have multiple visits, or require clinics to set up hospital-like facilities, have nothing to do with women’s [health care or safety] — and everything to do with making abortion nearly impossible to obtain." As soon as you consider having an abortion, you should look into your state’s laws and restrictions — even if you haven't fully made up your mind yet. The process may be complicated, so it's safest to understand the potential timeframe as you consider whether abortion is right for you.
To learn about the current laws in your state, Kolbi-Molinas suggests referring to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that provides specific information about abortion regulations in all 50 states. 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. She also recommends this interactive graph by NARAL Pro-Choice America, which provides an overview of the anti-choice measures in effect in each state.
As of August 2019, 43 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy, with 20 of these states prohibiting abortions after "fetal viability," or the point at which a fetus may be able to survive outside the womb, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This exact amount of time varies by pregnancy, but it's usually somewhere between 24 to 28 weeks, the Guttmacher Institute noted. The Institute also noted 14 states require a pregnant person receive in-person counseling before getting an abortion, and 27 states impose a mandatory waiting period between the first visit to the clinic and the actual procedure.
The future of abortion in several states is uncertain — in 2019, seven states have passed laws banning abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy or less. "Just this year, the ACLU has brought legal challenges to block abortion bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio, and Georgia," Kolbi-Molina says. "Nearly five decades ago, in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled these sorts of abortion bans unconstitutional, and we intend to keep it that way." Not all of these laws are currently enforced (many face complicated legal battles), but they can make the process more confusing, which is why it's especially important to educate yourself on your options.
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, Interim President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. “Hopefully, you’re lucky enough to have a healthcare provider who wants and is able to provide their patients with comprehensive care.” If not, you can call the National Abortion Federation’s referral hotline (1-877-257-0012) to help find your nearest abortion provider.
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 that provides abortion services.
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,” explains Dr. Colleen Denny, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health. This pregnancy calculator from the American Pregnancy Association 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 exact gestational age after three weeks of pregnancy. According to information provided on Clearblue's website, the test says it can detect 1-2, 2-3, and 3+ weeks of pregnancy but nothing after that. "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.
Dr. Tristan Emily Bickman, board certified OB-GYN, confirms that an ultrasound will be necessary to understand the specifics of your pregnancy. "Pregnancy tests are highly accurate," she explains. "Once a home test is positive, then the ultrasound should be performed to confirm it is intrauterine, and not ectopic or abnormal, and for dating [the gestational age]."
Once you’ve confirmed your gestational age 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. Many 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. And 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) provide funding for abortion seekers in one specific state, and the national network can connect you to these groups.
If you have a private insurance plan, your provider will likely cover all or some of the cost of an abortion. 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 will likely 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 Pennsylvania 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. Then, you typically 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.
“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.” Medication and surgical abortions both have a success rate of over 95%, according to 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. Abortion funds can help you cover travel costs as well.
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, according to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 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 to move forward.