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Abortions in the sixth month of pregnancy or later happen, but they aren't common. Data from 20 years ago reported that about 1,000 women a year in the United States had late-term abortions. In this group, about 600 women elected to have an abortion because of fetal deformity. 

Women who choose to end a pregnancy because the doctor has discovered the fetus will not survive outside the womb aren't heartless. They mourn the loss of their child. They don't want their child to be stillborn or to exist on life support for a few hours or a few days. They don't want to prolong the suffering of either the child or the family.

There are numerous conditions that can cause abnormalities that a newborn simply won't survive:

  • Neurological conditions such as the absence of corpus callosum, anencephaly,  Dandy Walker Disease, encephalocele, encephalomyelocele, holoanencephaly, oloprosencephaly, holorachischisis, hydrocephalus, and sometimes spina bifida.
  • Cardiological conditions such as holoacardia, the absence of the heart altogether, or transposition of blood vessels that cannot be corrected by surgery.
  • Skeletal conditions such as lethal dwarfism.
  • Gastrointestinal conditions such as gastroschisis and omphalocele.

Often the fetal defect that leads a woman to elect to terminate a pregnancy after six months could be addressed by heroic measures that would keep the baby alive for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, until he or she died in the hospital. In most of the United States, a woman has the legal latitude not to carry this baby to term.

However, there are also reasons that women seek late-term abortions that have nothing to do with the health of the child.

Several hundred women every year seek late-term abortions because:

  • They didn't know they were pregnant until the sixth month. Typically these are women who thought they had already passed menopause.
  • They were afraid to tell their partner or their parents, but once they started "showing" they could no longer keep the pregnancy a secret.
  • They took a lot of time to decide they wanted an abortion.
  • They didn't know they could get an abortion.
  • They didn't know the timing of the abortion was important.
  • They were under pressure not to get an abortion.
  • They were hoping their relationship would change, and it did not.

There are also a few women who seek late-term abortions because they become depressed because they have used drugs because the men in their lives assault them, or because their financial conditions become dire. Sometimes, in some states, these are considered valid reasons for abortion, but not always.

In the United States, almost all states permit late-term abortion when there is grave fetal defect, such as one of the conditions in the first group listed above.

However, in eighteen states, a doctor has to confirm that this condition exists. Ten states require that a second doctor confirms the diagnosis. Thirteen states require that a second doctor is on hand for treatment if a baby is born alive. 

Late-term abortions are usually performed by:

  • Dilation and evacuation (D & E, which is not the same as dilation and cutterage, D & C).
  • Induction abortion, induced labor, or
  • Intact dilation and abortion, sometimes termed "partial birth abortion."

If the medical staff notice signs of life when the fetus is removed from the womb, they must provide medical care.

Late-term abortions are always traumatic. There are always people ready to impose their opinions for or against the procedure on women considering them.

It can be physically dangerous just to go to the clinic to get the procedure. The trauma of losing a child can be compounded by the trauma of dealing with protesters and even violent people intent on interrupting the procedure. However, sometimes women decide late-term abortion is their best option for providing a happy home for a later child.

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