There are a lot of reasons why a pregnant woman would choose to have an abortion. It could be a personal choice, it could be a medical reason such as a threat to maternal life or fetal abnormalities, or it could be because the pregnancy was borne out of crime like rape or incest. But regardless of the reasons for wanting to have an abortion, deciding to finally terminate a pregnancy will have to be done within a time frame in view of policies enforced within a state or a country.
So when is it too late to have an abortion?
Realistically speaking, it depends where you live or where you plan to have it.
In the United States for instance, the latest that you can have an abortion is at about 24 weeks depending on the state. The reason behind the cut-off is the viability factor or the ability of the fetus to survive outside the mother’s womb. Abortions past this age of gestation is considered late-term abortion which is banned or prohibited in 41 states in the US as detailed by the Michigan State University its website. The states that allow a later termination of pregnancy only accept risk on maternal life as a reason for delayed abortion. However, such late term abortion can only be granted if pre-term delivery cannot be undertaken so as to save the life of both the fetus and its mother.
In the United Kingdom, abortions are also allowed up to 24 weeks of gestation. However, for cases where the mother’s life will be endangered or there are fetal abnormalities, termination of pregnancy can be done any time without time limits.
As for other countries, Singapore disallows abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy. In Sweden, abortions are only allowed up until the 18th week of gestation. In Austria, Cambodia, Romania, Hungary, and Germany termination of pregnancy is allowed up until the 14th week of pregnancy. In Italy, elective abortions can be performed before the 13th week mark. Other countries meanwhile placed the cut off at 12 weeks.
For some of the above-mentioned countries, later termination of pregnancy can be allowed when there is a threat to the mother’s life, there is fetal malformation and abnormality, and the pregnancy is borne out of rape or incest.
Wikipedia quoted a study on the reasons for late-term abortions in the United States. In that study, some of the primary reasons for wanting to terminate a pregnancy past the sixteenth week mark include (1) misjudged gestation or the woman was not able to determine the correct age of gestation of the fetus; (2) challenges in making abortion arrangements; (3) having second thoughts about informing their partners or parents about the pregnancy or their planned abortion; (4) the woman took a while to finally decide on terminating the pregnancy.
General types of abortion procedures
Late term abortion, or that which is sometimes called post-viability abortion is usually performed surgically by a medical doctor. There are three general types of abortion procedures for pregnancies that have progressed unto the late second trimester up to the third trimester. These include: (1) Dilation and Evacuation; (2) Early Labor Induction or Induction Abortion; and (3) Intact Dilation Abortion which can also be referred to as Partial-birth abortion.
Abortions done in the third trimester of life are done through the process called Hysterotomy which can be likened to a Caesarean-Section Surgery, but only with a smaller incision. The process also calls for General Anaesthesia.
There are rare cases though when late term abortions result to a live birth. In such cases when a fetus survives the abortion surgery and appears to have a good chance of survival, the medical protocol is to provide emergency medical care. If however the fetus’ chance of survival is slim, and could only live for hours, palliative care will be required from the medical personnel involved in performing the surgery.
To avoid such incidence, feticide or induced fetal demise is being recommended for post-viability abortions or late termination of pregnancies from the 21st week of gestation onwards.
So to answer the question “when is it too late to have an abortion?” the answer would be in the United States it would be post-viability or after 24 weeks of gestation.