11 November 2010

Opening soon: two new clinics in the U.S. for late-term abortions

Hot diggity damn, LeRoy Carhart, one of two abortion providers in the U.S. who still performs late-term abortions, has announced that he will be opening two new clinics, one near D.C. and one in Iowa (WashPost). The clinic near D.C. will open in December and will be easily accessible by Metro. The D.C. area is just a hop, skip, and a jump by air from just about anywhere in the lower 48, even Nebraska, where Dr. Carhart has been legislated out of providing late-term care.

Women choose late-term abortions for a lot of reasons. Most commonly the reasons are something like intrauterine fetal death or fetal abnormalities that are not survivable after birth (like mermaid syndrome or anencephaly), diagnosed late in the pregnancy due to errors, delayed prenatal care, or ordinary errors by the imaging technologist. In these cases, terminating the pregnancy is safer than enduring childbirth, whether a vaginal delivery or a C-section. (In fact, the maternal mortality rate for elective abortion is lower than that for childbirth. See Abortion Surveillance -- United States, 2003 and World Health Organization.) Other reasons for a late-term abortion generally involve deadly pregnancy complications, such as extreme pregnancy hypertension, heart conditions, or incompatibility with cancer treatments -- conditions where the mother has a high or near-certain risk of perishing if she attempts to continue the pregnancy. And again, frequently these conditions are diagnosed late in the pregnancy, or they appear late and unexpectedly.

Some women choose late-term abortions because they live in one of the 88% of all counties in the U.S. with no provider at all, or their state laws imposed a waiting period, or they had trouble raising the funds. These kinds of obstacles can delay a woman's access to prenatal care and counseling and thus push the pregnancy to a later term -- which makes the abortion riskier (though still safer than childbirth), more complex, and more expensive.

About a million abortions are performed in the U.S. every year. About 10,000 are performed after 21 weeks (CDC). Anti-choice zealots like Senator-elect Toomey (R-Pa.) would have you believe that all these women are terminating their pregnancies on a whim; they're selfish; they're having abortions for birth control; they're duped by abortion providers who want their money. But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that very, very few of these women want a late-term abortion. The circumstances are usually, at best, imposed on them by legal obstacles, and at worst, life-threateningly dangerous or tragic.

Late-term abortions should be safe, legal, and available on demand. Abortion is healthcare and when women cannot control this part of their healthcare they do not have full control over their destiny. Dr. Carhart is doing American women a great service, and I'm heartened to know that once that clinic is open near D.C. I'll be that much physically closer to a late-term abortion service if I should ever need it.

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