An Expert Breaks Down What Everyone's Getting Wrong About "Late-Term Abortion"

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Since 2016, there's been a lot of talk concerning reproductive rights and health care, and not all of it has been pretty. While some people may claim to know all there is about the pro-choice movement and abortion rights, there's a lot more to learn, especially concerning abortions later in pregnancy. So, what is late-term abortion? Well to start, that's not even an accurate term.

So-called "late-term" abortion has been in the public eye in the first weeks of 2019. In January, both New York and Virginia made headlines for abortion legislation which affirmed the right to abortion later in pregnancy, with New York passing the Reproductive Health Act, which allows patients seeking abortions to be assisted by physicians without political interference and legalizes abortions after 24 weeks if the mother's life is in danger or the fetus is not viable. For its part, Virginia introduced House Bill 2491, which would remove restrictions such as the 24-hour waiting period, as well as allow a termination of a pregnancy if the mother's "mental or physical health is threatened." Both bills were immediately controversial, with opponents claiming that it would allow abortion up until a due date and even result in live babies being killed. Federally, it's been an issue as well. On Monday, Feb. 26, the Senate shot down a bill that would have set up required certain care of infants born after failed abortions, a problem which expert Dr. Kristyn Brandi told Vox is a "false narrative" and would leave doctors vulnerable to lawsuits. In a New York Times op-ed on Feb. 26, OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter raised concerns that the bill would restrict options for parents of stillborn or dying babies.

Politicians are weighing in, too. On Feb. 7, Donald Trump attended the National Prayer Breakfast and spoke to the crowd about Virginia's latest bill, in which he discussed so-called late-term abortion, and incorrectly claimed that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said that if a child was born deformed or severely ill "he would execute a baby after birth." On Feb. 25, he doubled down on the extreme stance, saying in a tweet that "Democrats don't mind executing babies AFTER birth," in response to the Senate failing to pass the abortion bill. The White House did not immediately respond to Elite Daily's request for clarification.

But is this all real? Not so much, according to Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health. She tells Elite Daily that there's a lot of misconceptions about abortion late in pregnancy, including the reasons that people have them. "There are many reasons why patients may need access to this care, one not more valid than the other," Brandi says.

Abortions later in pregnancy are uncommon, but if they do occur, one of the main reasons is because diagnoses that would detect illness or disabilities the fetus might have aren't available until later in the pregnancy. "Every pregnancy is different and every person’s situation is unique," Brandi says.

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Even the phrase "late-term abortion" is a misnomer. "In medicine, a 'late-term' pregnancy refers to a pregnancy that is past its due date (past 40 weeks), and abortions do not happen then," Brandi says, noting that doctors will refer to a pregnancy's timeline in terms of weeks, not months. In fact, she notes, there is "no medical definition" for abortion later in pregnancy that differentiates it from abortion at any other point.

"This phrase is rooted in political rhetoric, not medical evidence," Brandi explains. "Anti-abortion politicians and commentators are using this terminology to shock people. The phrase gives no context as to the unique human experiences that encompass abortion care later in pregnancy."

She says simply using that inaccurate phrase can be harmful. "When people deliberately use inflammatory language for shock value, it is hurtful and insulting to the patients facing complex situations," she says.

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Despite it being a medically-inaccurate term, it's still a phrase commonly used throughout media outlets and anti-choice movements, which contributes to the controversy and stigma. During the 2019 State of the Union on Tuesday, Feb. 5, Donald Trump addressed the crowd and called for Congress to ban abortions later in pregnancy. He said,

To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb. Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.

Brandi thinks that politicians' stances on this issue have led misinformation to circulate among the public, impacting advocates for reproductive rights.

"The misinformation being spread about abortion is incredibly inaccurate and inflammatory," Brandi says. "What I know as an OB-GYN who provides the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion care, is that the patients in need of this care deserve all of their medical options and compassion, not the lies that are currently being told by politicians."

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While some states are making changes that promote increasing individuals' access to reproductive care, other states have pushed to restrict abortion. According to a January 2018 report from reproductive health policy think tank The Guttmacher Institute, state politicians across the United States have passed more than 400 restrictions on abortion since 2011, which includes laws banning abortions after 20 weeks into pregnancy. On Feb. 19, Arkansas became the fifth state to pass a "trigger law," which will automatically ban abortion in the state should Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that guaranteed the right to abortion, be overturned. This law not only impacts patients, but also physicians who might be arrested if they perform these procedures if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

"This is all a part of a plan to outlaw abortion," Brandi says of trigger laws. "I never want to be in a position where I have to decide between providing the best care to my patients and losing my career or facing imprisonment."

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Brandi also says that the hyperbole around the issue severely impacts groups who already have a difficult time accessing affordable and inclusive health care, such as LGBTQIA individuals and people of color. According to a December 2017 report from ProPublica, black women are dying from pregnancy-related complications three to four times the rate compared to white women. According to the study, this high rate of maternal mortality is due to lack of affordable and accessible health care from providers, which can delay detection of problems during pregnancy.

"Something that is grossly underrepresented in this conversation is how these barriers to care disproportionally affect those who are already facing challenges accessing health care — people of color, women with low-incomes, immigrant women, LGBTQIA people, and women in rural areas," Brandi says. "Bills like the one in Virginia or the new law in New York will protect those who face the most barriers to getting the health care they need and deserve."

No matter where you stand on this issue, it's always important to be informed.