"Rip the baby out of the womb" isn't something you'd necessarily expect to hear during a presidential debate, but when it comes to the 2016 election, the topic of abortion is as important as ever. (ICYMI, here's what's been going on with abortion legislation in the U.S. and one of the scary repercussions of it all.) Here's what you need to know about when it's legal (and safe) to get an abortion in the U.S.
First and Second Trimester
For the record, you can't abort a pregnancy one day before the due date. There are two main types of abortions, medical and surgical/in-clinic. Medical abortions (think: the abortion pill) can be used during the first trimester up to (but no later than) the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood.
Surgical abortions can be done during the first or second trimester, and include procedures like aspiration (used up to 16 weeks after the last period) and dilation and evacuation (used after 16 weeks), according to Planned Parenthood. Aspiration involves a gentle suction (either manually or by machine) through a tube that goes through the cervix and empties the uterus. Dilation and evacuation involve entering the uterus through the cervix and removing tissue from the uterine lining with a scoop-like surgical instrument. While they're called "surgical" there's not actually any surgery required; there are no incisions involved and it takes about 10 minutes to do, as Debra Stulberg, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Chicago told us in How Risky Are Abortions Anyway?.
So, yes, you have several options during the first and second trimester, but late-term abortions—those done towards the end of the second trimester and beginning of the third trimester—are illegal in most states. Three states currently ban abortions in the third trimester and 15 states ban it about 20 weeks post-fertilization (or about 22 weeks after the last period), according to the Guttmacher Institute. For 19 other states, the guideline for considering an abortion to be "late term" and illegal is if the fetus is considered "viable," or that it could survive outside the womb. Most medical communities consider that to be about 24 weeks, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The exception for performing a late-term abortion after these dates, however, is when it's deemed medically necessary (ex: if the pregnancy is putting the mother's life at risk).
Know Your Risks
This all might sound super scary, but there's good news; when done in the first trimester, abortions are one of the safest medical procedures—the risk of major complications is less than 0.05 percent, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute. That being said, the earlier the better when it comes to terminating a pregnancy; the risk of death from childbirth is 11 times greater than the risk of death from an abortion procedure during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. After 20 weeks, the risk of death is about the same as childbirth, according to Planned Parenthood.