Publication date: January 7, 2005
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
Attempt to convince someone abortion in the United States is legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy and you will most likely be told that you are mistaken. With the dominant media culture bombarding the public with factoids such as abortion is legal only in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, it is likely that your contention will be rejected.
According to the National Abortion Federation, “Despite the claims of some anti-abortion activists, women have access to abortion in the third trimester only in extreme circumstances.” Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, writes in her December, 2004 blog, “Roe v. Wade strikes a sensible balance that allows states to restrict abortion in the third trimester, except in cases where the health or life of the woman is endangered. Most states already have such laws.”
Respected pro-life organizations maintain abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy for practically any reason. So what is the truth? Is it ever too late for an abortion? If not, are late term abortions allowed only under extreme circumstances?
The rulings handed down by the United States Supreme Court on January 22, 1973 provide the answer. On that date, the Court handed down two decisions that were “to be read together.” Most Americans, however, are familiar with only one of those two rulings—Roe v. Wade. Few have heard of Doe v. Bolton.
In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion. While guaranteeing that right, the Court did say that the state “has legitimate interests in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life, each of which interests grows and reaches a ‘compelling’ point at various stages of the woman’s approach to term.”
The court [in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)] included the following:
(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.Basically, the state may not regulate abortion for any reason during the first trimester of pregnancy; may regulate abortion only to protect the health of the mother during the second trimester; and may regulate or prohibit abortion in the third trimester except where necessary to preserve the woman’s life or health.
(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.
(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life [410 U.S. 113, 165] may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is
necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
It is this reference to health that is addressed in Doe v. Bolton [410 U.S. 179 (1973)]:
We agree with the District Court, 319 F. Supp., at 1058, that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors— physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age—relevant to the well being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.
Reading Roe v. Wade and Doe V. Bolton together (as mandated by the Court), it becomes clear that abortion in the United States is legal for virtually any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
Abortionists Warren Hern and George Tiller advertise that they “perform” late term abortions. Hern declares he provides “medically indicated termination of pregnancy up to 36 weeks.” Tiller acknowledges he provides “very late term abortion care for fetal problems and maternal health.” The late James McMahon admitted that he committed abortions “even into the ninth month.”
Sadly, it is never too late to procure an abortion in the United States.