How Late In Pregnancy Can You Actually Have an Abortion?
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that protected the right to an abortion under the Constitution, the question of "how late can you have an abortion?" is as relevant as ever. Here's what you need to know about when (and where) it's legal and safe to get an abortion in the U.S. right now.
How Early Can You Have an Abortion?
There are two main types of abortions: medical and surgical/in-clinic. Medical abortions (think: the abortion pill) can be used during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood.
And when can you get an abortion if you're not taking that route? Surgical abortions can be done during the first or second trimester, and include procedures such as aspiration (used up to 14 to 16 weeks after your last period) and dilation and evacuation (usually used if it's been 16 weeks or longer since your last period), 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 these types of abortions are called "surgical" there are no incisions involved and it takes about 10 minutes to do, Debra Stulberg, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Chicago previously told Shape.
How Late Can You Have an Abortion?
Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, abortion options vary even more drastically between states. As of June 27, 2022, 16 states have prohibited or plan to prohibit all abortions, many with no exceptions for rape or incest, according to The New York Times. In five other states, abortions are banned or will be banned after an early point in pregnancy, including six weeks (in Ohio, South Carolina, and Georgia) and 15 weeks (in Arizona and Florida). To make matters more confusing, future access to abortion is still unclear in nine other states, reports The Times.
That said, abortion remains legal — and in some cases, protected by state constitutions — in certain states. Colorado, New Jersey, and Oregon, for example, have no gestational limit on abortion. Others, such as Illinois, Maine, and New York, limit abortion after the point of fetal viability, according to The New York Times. Under the legal standard, "viability" (the point at which a fetus can survive outside the uterus) can range from 24 to 28 weeks after the start of a menstruator's last period, according to the Guttmacher Institute. However, exceptions may be made if the pregnant individual's physical, mental, or emotional health is at risk, depending on the state, notes the Guttmacher Institute.
If you're wondering how far into a pregnancy you can have an abortion — if at all — in your state, visit the Guttmacher Insitute's record of state policies to see where your state's laws fall. (And because so many states restrict abortion, more and more women are trying to DIY. Not. Okay.)
The Bottom Line On When You Can Get an Abortion
This all might sound super scary, but there's good news; when done in the first trimester, abortions are a safe medical procedure — the risk of major complications is less than 0.05 percent, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute. To put that into context, the risk of death from childbirth is 14 times greater than the risk of death from a surgical abortion procedure after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. That being said, the earlier the better when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. The risk of death associated with surgical abortion increases from one death per million procedures at eight or fewer weeks to 8.9 deaths per million procedures after 20 weeks' gestation, according to Planned Parenthood.