How Far Along Can You Have An Abortion
I was 25 years old when I found out I was pregnant. My boyfriend and I had been dating since we were 18; he’d moved to my city with me from another one about 30 minutes away because I wanted him there more. We got married two months after our first date, which is why it took me so long to figure out what to do.
We knew we couldn’t have children on our own, but we thought things would work out fine once we started trying. He wasn’t exactly excited when I told him I was getting pregnant, but he accepted it without much fuss. As far as he was concerned, he figured I could just adopt or use some other form of birth control. But I didn’t want to feel like I was taking his life choices away from him, so I decided to go through with the pregnancy.
My doctor recommended Plan B One Step Emergency Birth Control, a pill I could take if I became unexpectedly pregnant. After all, this is how I’d planned to handle it anyway. I did end up having sex shortly before discovering I was pregnant, so I was able to skip the morning dose and take it during lunchtime instead. It worked great! By the time I missed my period, I was already four days late, meaning I hadn’t become pregnant yet.
The day I discovered I was pregnant I called Planned Parenthood’s customer service line to schedule an appointment. The representative who answered said they wouldn’t see anyone under the age of 26 until their 27th week of pregnancy (which is actually well past the point where most states allow abortions). Because I felt too embarrassed to tell them I was only 20 weeks along, she referred me to a local clinic. Once I arrived, however, I learned that the same woman who’d previously given me the bad news now works there. She smiled politely and asked me why I was calling. When I explained that I was only a few days late and wanted to make sure I wouldn’t miss my scheduled appointment, her eyes narrowed and her face turned red. “Are you serious?” she exclaimed. “Your appointment is next Friday.”
She then spent the rest of her shift berating me over the phone, telling me I was selfish and stupid and that I should’ve waited to find out if I was pregnant before getting myself into such a mess. I cried throughout the entire conversation, but kept quiet about how far along I really was. Finally, when she hung up, I ran straight home and looked online to find out everything I could about how early you can legally get an abortion in the United States.
According to Guttmacher Institute data, there are currently seven states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma) where it’s legal to terminate your pregnancy up until the 22nd week of pregnancy. In those states you can choose to receive medication to induce labor or you can have a surgical procedure to remove the fetus. Two additional states — South Dakota and Utah — also allow abortions up until the 22nd week of pregnancy, but only if the mother’s life is endangered by continuing the pregnancy.
In New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, the cutoff is 23 weeks, though those states still offer different methods of ending the pregnancy. Most states don’t require any type of medical justification for terminating a pregnancy, while others require doctors to determine whether there’s a reason to keep the baby alive. Some states even ban abortion outright after a certain number of weeks.
So what happens if you live in a state where late-term abortions aren’t allowed? First, let’s establish some definitions. According to Planned Parenthood, a person is considered viable at six weeks of pregnancy if they can survive outside the womb independently. This means breathing, feeding, and responding to stimuli like pain or loud noises. At eight weeks, the definition expands to include someone who can breathe, feed, urinate, defecate, and move from lying down to standing upright. A person is considered viable at 10 weeks if they can breathe, feed, urinate, and defecate. And at 14 weeks, viability extends to someone who can breathe, eat, drink, walk, talk, and play music.
In states where abortions are allowed up until the 23rd week of pregnancy, you’ll be eligible for a second trimester abortion. These types of procedures happen between 13 and 19 weeks of pregnancy. During this time, the patient may experience cramps, bleeding, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, low blood pressure, headaches, pelvic contractions, and changes to their cervix. Doctors will often perform ultrasounds during these appointments. Though second trimester abortions are generally less invasive, patients might have to stay overnight in the hospital depending on what stage of pregnancy they’re at.
If, for whatever reason, you can’t travel to a state where you can obtain a second trimester abortion, you can try seeing a provider in your area. Call your local Planned Parenthood chapter to check availability and prices. They may not provide abortions every day, but they’ll help connect you to providers who can.
But what if you’re looking for an abortion after the 20th week? That’s when you’ll start running out of options unless you’re willing to cross state lines. Only three states — California, Hawaii, and Washington — allow elective abortions past 21 weeks of pregnancy. So if you fall into this category, you may want to consider contacting organizations like Whole Woman’s Health, which provides abortion services in several states. Their website lists clinics, pricing information, and contact numbers near you.
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