The group outfitted three women between 23 and 26 weeks pregnant with tiny cameras and sent them to 18 clinics pretending to seek abortions. They were unable to gain access to other clinics because of scheduling conflicts and because they were too far along in their pregnancies. Rose said the women were recruited and paid between $1,000 and $2,500.
The videos come at a time of particular upheaval over abortion. Several states have passed laws severely restricting access to the procedure, which abortion rights groups have challenged or intend to in court. Many of those laws target early-stage pregnancy, but in recent years, late-term abortions have been more controversial. Most states have some restrictions on late abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health research center.
In Maryland and Virginia, abortions are not allowed beyond when the fetus becomes viable, except in situations where the woman’s “life and health” are threatened. Maryland also allows exceptions for fetal abnormalities. In both states, the doctor performing the abortion makes those determinations. In Virginia, a second doctor must approve it.
The District has the fewest restrictions, with no specific rules governing late-term abortions.
More than 88 percent of the 1.2 million abortions performed each year in the United States are done in the first trimester, and most doctors will not perform them beyond 24 weeks because of moral qualms, legal concerns or lack of experience. Barely 1 percent of procedures — perhaps about 15,000 each year — are done after 21 weeks. At 37 weeks, a baby is generally considered full-term. No group has statistics on how many fetuses survive an abortion, experts said.
But it can happen when doctors use suppositories to help open a woman’s cervix days before the abortion. The suppositories can, in rare instances, trigger labor.
Bonnie Hope Arzuaga, a Chicago neonatologist who co-wrote a 2011 study in the journal Pediatrics that looked at the limits of viability, said the lack of clarity in the federal Born-Alive law often leaves the decision up to the states and the individual doctor.
“You have to use your professional judgment, you have to use ethical principles, and a lot of times law and ethics don’t agree,” she said. People don’t realize that physical intervention to resuscitate a 23-week-old infant can cause major damage to its lungs and brain, she said.