Nearly 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks, but when they are needed later in pregnancy, it’s often in very complex circumstances — the kind of situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available.
In fact, abortions later in pregnancy may involve rare, severe fetal abnormalities and serious risks to the woman’s health.
Read the stories of women who had to make the decision to end their pregnancies — a decision that would be taken away with a 20-week ban.
Christie B., Virginia
Christie was pregnant with her second child, a planned and wanted the pregnancy.
"My husband and I were confronted with two equally horrible options — carry the pregnancy to term and watch our baby girl suffocate to death upon birth, or end the pregnancy early and say goodbye to our much-wanted and much-loved baby girl."
After a 20-week ultrasound, she found out her daughter would be born with a complication called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) and would suffocate at birth. She made the difficult decision of ending the pregnancy at 21 weeks.
April S., New Jersey
"Everything about a later termination is already so incredibly difficult — even just picking up the phone to make the appointment. The 20-week ban adds another hurdle. It’s just cruel."
He would never be able to breathe on his own. If she carried the pregnancy to term and he was born alive, he would die shortly after of suffocation. April hoped the news wasn’t true, so she requested more tests to confirm the diagnosis, which took two weeks.
At 21 weeks, she aborted. April shares her story because she has found that it can change opinions. Several people she knows personally who previously had been anti-abortion told her that they would have done the same thing she did.
Jeni R., Texas
At 21 weeks, Jeni was told that her fetus had multiple severe defects.
"It would have been too hard for me to carry to term, and it seemed pointless to make the baby suffer too when she would never survive."
She could end the pregnancy or wait for the fetus to miscarry or die. There was no way that the pregnancy would end in a live, healthy baby.
Jeni and her husband chose to terminate the pregnancy, but because they live in Texas, they were forced to endure several cruel restrictions: a two-day waiting period, listening to a mandatory script about abortion, and a sign-off from two separate doctors.
Julie B., Maryland
Julie’s doctor told her and her husband that their son’s brain had a serious abnormality, a diagnosis that they confirmed with tests, more ultrasounds, and an MRI.
"We were excited about the 20-week scan because we thought we were just finding out if it was a boy or a girl. The technician said we were having a boy, and sent us back to our OBGYN's office. The first thing she said when she walked in was, ‘I’m so sorry.’"
If the baby survived birth, he would never speak, walk, or have conscious thoughts based upon what had developed in his brain. Julie and her husband decided to terminate the pregnancy, and the soonest they could get the appointment was at 21 weeks.
Julie could not find a surgeon in Maryland at that time willing to perform the procedure, so she had to be induced for labor and delivery. Her baby was born alive and died very shortly after.
Kate C., Massachusetts
At the 18-week ultrasound, the technician thought he saw something indicating a problem with the brain, but at the Level 2 scan, the technician found nothing wrong.
"When we make this illegal, we are just talking about making it unsafe. Because I would have done anything to get an abortion. I would have gone to a back alley if I had needed to. I believe it is my obligation as a mother to do whatever I can to make a terrible situation [for my children] better. I did that for my daughter. I resent it very much when politicians try to force me to carry a very sick baby to term and watch her die a slow and tortured death just because it fits their – and not my – religious sensibilities."
But Kate was nervous and insisted on another Level 2 scan during her third trimester. It turned out that her baby had moderate to severe Dandy-Walker syndrome as well as another brain malformation. If she survived, she would have had trouble swallowing and breathing, and she would have been afflicted by seizures, vomiting, choking, and muscle spasms. Her short life would have been filled with suffering. Kate and her husband flew across the country to Colorado for the abortion.
Chelsea C., Maryland
Chelsea’s much-wanted baby was diagnosed at 22 weeks with multiple heart defects including transposition of the great arteries, pulmonary atresia, and ventricular septal defect.
"People have a perception that women who terminate at a later stage just don’t want to be pregnant anymore or are selfish because they don’t want a sick baby. But this is not something I did for myself. This is something I did for him. I did this so that he wouldn’t have to suffer."
He also had DiGeorge syndrome, a genetic disorder that caused not only his heart defects but would have caused many other problems for him as well.
She and her husband decided to abort after consulting with a team of medical specialists, as well as a genetics counselor. They terminated the pregnancy at 24 weeks.
Katie L., California
Katie and her husband were newlyweds who wanted to get pregnant right away.
"I want to tell lawmakers that it’s not their right to make this decision for someone else. This is a decision that needs to be made by families with their doctors. It’s a horrible situation, and until you’ve been through it, you have no idea, and you can’t make that decision for someone else."
Katie went off the pill and started taking prenatal vitamins. When they discovered two months later that she was pregnant, they were overjoyed. But they discovered at the 18-week ultrasound that their baby had multiple problems, including spina bifida and a tethered spinal cord.
They decided to abort but wanted to make sure they were making the right decision, and they then had to wait for an available appointment. Katie and her husband terminated this very wanted pregnancy at 22 weeks.
Lindsey S., California
When Lindsey had her 12-week ultrasound, everything looked completely normal. But the picture was different at the 21-week anatomy scan.
"If I had carried her to term, she would not have survived anyway. As her mother, it is my right to spare her suffering, and that is what I did."
Lindsey and her husband learned that their baby had a lethal skeletal dysplasia. Lindsey sought out additional opinions from three maternal-fetal specialists, and they all agreed that her baby would not survive because her lungs were not developing properly.
Lindsey and her husband chose to terminate the pregnancy with a labor induction at close to 24 weeks. They feel grateful that they had the choice to end their baby’s life with compassion.
Thais D., California
At the 20-week ultrasound, Thais received the diagnosis, which she then had confirmed with additional tests.
"Finding out your baby can’t survive is traumatic, and women in this situation should be able to choose if they want to end their pregnancy early or deliver at full-term. If abortion after 20 weeks had not been legal, I may have traveled to another country. Women who can’t travel could try to self-abort or do other things that are not safe."
There were multiple problems with her baby’s heart and lungs, and there was no diaphragm at all, so her baby would have suffocated to death. Thais and her husband chose to terminate at 22 weeks.
Danielle S., New York
Danielle’s pregnancy was going well and was considered low-risk. A mother of two, she had all the tests and scans, none of which indicated any problem.
"What my husband and I experienced was just so horrible. Unless people have walked in my shoes, they don’t understand. I did what was right for my son and my family, and it’s no one else’s business."
But in the 29th week, she learned that her baby had multiple brain problems, including unilateral brain swelling, brain asymmetry, malformed cerebellum, and no corpus callosum.
If her baby lived to term, he would have a life of suffering. Danielle had to fly across the country to New Mexico for the procedure.
Phil W., Missouri
Phil and his wife had tried to get pregnant for several years, and they were thrilled when she finally became pregnant with twins through a GIFT procedure at a fertility clinic.
"Decisions about abortion need to be made with families and with the best medical information available. There is no one-size-fits-all situation for all pregnancies."
But their twins, who were identical, were diagnosed with twin-twin transfusion syndrome, a disease of the placenta. In week 21, Phil and his wife learned not only that both twins would die but that they had to abort because otherwise Phil’s wife was at risk of a ruptured uterus.
Their doctor could not provide the abortion because he was affiliated with a Catholic hospital, and Phil’s wife was unable to fly because no airline would fly someone with a high-risk pregnancy. They drove to Kansas for induced labor and delivery, and Phil participated in a baptism for the twins.
Jenni L., Michigan
At the 18-week ultrasound, Jenni and her husband were told that their son had a severe brain malformation.
"Deciding to end my much-wanted pregnancy was difficult and deeply sad, but also deeply personal. At no point during this process did I consider my legislators a part of the conversation. I listened to my doctors, genetic counselors, my family, and my heart."
For the next few weeks, Jenni visited maternal-fetal specialists and genetic counselors, learning that their son was unlikely to survive full-term. She terminated at 21 weeks.