The demographics of late-term abortion


(Joe Mahoney/Associated Press)

Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that many abortion restrictions target late-term abortions. This year alone, five states banned abortions after 20 weeks. Even Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that protected first-trimester abortion, only protects third-trimester abortions when the life or health of the mother is at risk.

But for all the political battles that get fought over abortion, we’ve actually known very little about which women get later-term abortions: Who are the 10.2 percent of abortion patients who end a pregnancy after more than three months? A new study published in the journal Contraception has some answers.

The study, conducted by Guttmacher researchers Rachel Jones and Lawrence Finer, is the first to review the demographics of 9,493 women who had abortions after 13 weeks in 2008. It compared the groups that seek later-term abortions to those who have earlier terminations. And it found that groups more likely to have abortions after 13 weeks include black women, women with less education, adolescents and those who had experienced three or more disruptive events in the past year. Women exposed to violence by their partners were also slightly more common among later-abortion patients.

To the researchers, the findings suggest that more disadvantaged groups may be more likely to have an abortion later in pregnancy because they had trouble getting one earlier. “Less educated patients may have had less knowledge about reproduction and taken longer to recognize they were pregnant,” they write. “Lower levels of education in this context could ... serve as proxy for financial difficulties such as obtaining money to pay for an abortion during the first trimester.”

One other interesting finding from Jones’s work: Women were more likely to pay for late-term abortions with health insurance versus earlier terminations. Part of this may have to do with the medical procedure, which becomes more expensive and also more invasive later in the pregnancy.

“When planning a first-trimester, it’s easier to pay for it out of pocket,” says Rachel Jones, one of the researchers. “Many may not want their employer or family to know. But as it becomes more expensive, seeking a second-trimester abortion, they may sacrifice the privacy because of the price.”

The new research certainly won’t put to rest our national debate over abortion. But it does give a better sense of who the battle is being fought over and what circumstances put them in the position of seeking a late-term abortion in the first place.

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