Media Ignore Why Women Need Access To Abortion After 20 Weeks

››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

Media are misleadingly hyping Republican anti-choice rhetoric to promote the idea that legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy is "reasonable." In fact, many severe health complications for the mother and fetus are only discovered during or after the 20th week of pregnancy, and research has found that financial hardship forces many women to delay the procedure. 

Media Hype Claims That 20-Week Abortion Bans Are "Reasonable"

NBC's David Gregory: "Is It Not Reasonable To Put Some Restrictions On Late Term Abortion" Such As A 20-Week Ban? On NBC's Meet The Press, host David Gregory asked Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), "You now have states voting to ban abortion after 20 weeks ... Is it not reasonable to put some restrictions on late term abortion as we're seeing in the states?" [NBC.com, Meet The Press, 7/14/13]

CNN's Christine Romans Hypes Gov. Rick Perry's Claim That 20 Weeks Is "Reasonable." CNN Early Start guest host Christine Romans hyped Texas Gov. Rick Perry's claim that 20 weeks was "a reasonable amount of time for a woman to make a decision" to seek an abortion. Romans noted that critics of the specific legislation passed in Texas predicted most women's health clinics in the state would close as a result, but did not dispute Perry's claim. [CNN, Early Start, 7/15/13]

Fox News Host Bill O'Reilly Claims "Most Countries In The World Have The 20-Week Threshold" And Dismisses Women's Health Concerns. On Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that "most countries in the world have the 20-week threshold" and suggested that women could obtain abortions for "any reason at all ... Women's health. Look, I sprained my hand." [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 7/10/13]

National Review's Rich Lowry: A Ban After 20 Weeks "Represents A Minor Restriction On Abortion By Any Reasonable Standard." In a blog post, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote: "A ban after 20 weeks, near the end of the second trimester, represents a minor restriction on abortion by any reasonable standard. Many European countries, which we tend to consider laxer on such matters, ban abortion well before 20 weeks." [National Review Online, 7/16/13]

Many Serious Health Conditions For Mother And Fetus Are Only Discovered In 20th Week Of Pregnancy

American College Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists: Optimal Time When Obstetric Ultrasound Detects Major Malformations Is Between 18 And 20 Weeks. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the "optimal time for an obstetric ultrasound examination is between 18 to 20 weeks of gestation because anatomically complex organs, such as the fetal heart and brain, can be imaged with sufficient clarity to allow detection of many major malformations." [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Clinical Policy Bulletin, accessed 7/12/13

Chief Of Pediatric Cardiology, University Of Massachusetts Medical School: Scans Around Week 20 "Are Critical For Uncovering Major Birth Defects." The chief of pediatric cardiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who specializes in high-risk pregnancies explained in a Slate article the serious medical complications 20-week scans can reveal, including severe brain malformations of the fetus and missing organs:

Why do some women wait so long? The answer is that comprehensive fetal testing, such as anatomical sonograms and ultrasounds of the heart, are typically performed just before 20 weeks of gestation. Such scans are critical for uncovering major birth defects, such as anencephaly (severe brain malformations), major heart defects, missing organs and limbs, and other severe birth defects. Fetal development is a complex process that often goes awry. Roughly 2 percent of all pregnancies are complicated by a major birth defect, and of those about 0.5 percent have a chromosomal defect, such as an extra or missing segment of normal DNA. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and in many cases of severe birth defects, no medical treatment can salvage a fetus's life or result in any measure of normal future health. [Slate, 7/11/13]

ACOG: "By The Time A Diagnosis Is Confirmed ... The Pregnancy Has Often Progressed Beyond 20 Weeks." ACOG explained in an amicus brief opposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in Arizona that while some dangerous conditions affecting the fetus can be detected earlier than week 20, "[b]y the time a diagnosis is confirmed by a specialist capable of diagnosing these anomalies, the pregnancy has often progressed beyond 20 weeks." [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/11/12]

ACOG: Delaying Abortions In Non-Fatal Health Crises Can Put The "Patient's Health In Serious Jeopardy." According to ACOG, delaying abortions in cases when mothers experience health complications that are not fatal at or past week 20, including heart conditions, cancer, lupus, and diabetes, can put the "patient's health in serious jeopardy" and "compromise the physician's ethical duty to the patient." [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/11/12]

Not All 20-Week Bans Include Exceptions For These Health Risks

Huffington Post: 20-Week Abortion Ban Passed In The U.S. House Contains No Exceptions For Fetal Abnormalities Or Health Of The Mother. H.R. 1797, also known as "The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June and prohibits abortions after 20 weeks. The bill is unlikely to make it past the Senate, and contains no exception for fetal abnormalities or health of the mother, meaning that a woman who discovers in the 20th week of pregnancy that she or her fetus experienced a damaging condition would still be forced to carry the pregnancy to term:

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, authored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), bans abortions after 20 weeks, based on the medically disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. It contains exceptions for women whose lives are in danger as well as some rape and incest victims who can prove that they reported their assaults to criminal authorities, but it contains no exceptions for severe fetal anomalies or situations in which the woman's health is threatened by her pregnancy. [Huffington Post, 6/18/13]

Slate: 20-Week Abortion Ban Passed In Texas Does Not Contain Exceptions For All Severe Conditions. The chief of pediatric cardiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School explained in an article in Slate that the newly passed 20-week abortion ban in Texas does provide an exception for fetuses with severe anomalies, but only if they are "incompatible with life outside the womb," a definition which does not include defects that might result in significant pain for the fetus or long-term vegetative states:

For example, defects resulting in long-term vegetative states (e.g. holoprosencephaly), severe bodily deformities requiring repeated high-risk and painful procedures with an extremely low chance of success (massive congenital diaphragmatic hernias), genetic abnormalities causing death and severe disability but with a tiny chance of longer life (Patau syndrome) could theoretically not be "incompatible with life."  [Slate, 7/11/13

Financial Hardship Forces Many Women To Delay Procedures

Guttmacher Institute: Seven In 10 Women Wanted To Have An Abortion Earlier, But Many Delay Because They Cannot Afford The Procedure. Guttmacher Institute research found that of those who had second-trimester abortions, "Seven in 10 women would have preferred to have their abortion earlier. Many women experience delays because they need time to raise the money." The research also noted that most women pay out of pocket for their abortion. [Guttmacher Institute, accessed 7/1/13]

American Journal Of Public Health: "Studies Continue To Demonstrate That Lack Of Financial Support For Abortion Results In Delays." Writing in the American Journal of Public Health, Bonnie Scott Jones of the Center for Reproductive Rights and Dr. Tracy A. Weitz of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health found that lack of financial support can cause women to delay their abortions later and later:

Women with limited financial resources can find themselves in an vicious cycle: by the time they have secured the money for an abortion performed at one gestational limit, their pregnancy has advanced into the next. Studies continue to demonstrate that lack of financial support for abortion results in delays that push the procedure into the second trimester. [American Journal of Public Health, April 2009, via National Center for Biotechnology Information]

Guttmacher Institute: Women Forgo Paying For Rent And Food In Order To Afford Abortions. Guttmacher Institute research found that 42 percent of women having abortions have income levels below the federal poverty line, and women have reported having "to borrow money from friends & family and forgo paying rent, groceries & utilities to pay for their procedure." In 2008, the average cost of a first-trimester abortion was $470. [Guttmacher Institute, accessed 7/1/13]

For more facts media should know about states' unprecedented restrictions on abortions, click here.

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