Understanding access to later abortion as a reproductive justice issue

Membership call: Tuesday, June 8, 2017

The same factors and barriers at play when talking about abortion in general are also at play when talking about later abortion.  Race, gender, sexuality, class, geographic location, religion, parental education, one’s ability to access information about one’s body, community, health, and one’s understanding of these factors all play a role in abortion access in general and later abortion in particular.

Later abortions are those conducted after 20 weeks gestational age. Research shows that 20-24 year old people are more likely to have a later abortion. Those identifying that they are pregnant before the eighth week of pregnancy are less likely to obtain a later abortion. Additional barriers include securing money, and locating a provider.

Over 91% of abortions occur in the first trimester of pregnancy. This contributes to the messaging around abortion that we use within the movement which can contribute to stigma around later abortion. As gestational age increases, support for abortion decreases and our movement is less likely to advocate for and publicly support later abortion. Issues that may impact opinions about later abortion include the physical appearance of a baby as gestational age increases, and the question of personhood. The discomfort with inclusion of these contentious topics and issues into the conversation about later abortion does our movement a disservice. Engaging with these issues is important as we continue discussion of who and how people seek later abortion care.

Choice is an active word that does not imply urgency.  Use of a decision-making framework allows us to consider the different conditions people experience in a way that use of a choice framework does not. The impact of discourse around abortion on real action is important as choices are not made in a vacuum. A decision-making framing also implies permanence for outcomes, while a choice framework implies A versus B. Patriarchy, white supremacy, and heteronormativity all impose false tropes about the lack of autonomy people with a uterus have over their bodies and a lack of knowledge about what to do with their bodies. Decision-making framing also allows for consideration of emotional nuance in later abortion.

In contemporary discourse on abortion, reproduction is characterized as a process that can and should be controlled. Research suggests that there’s a presumption that each person knows early on whether or not they want to carry a pregnancy to term and that there is less of a moral quandary around abortion earlier in a pregnancy . First trimester abortion is viewed as more moral. A progression from this logic implies failure on the part of later abortion seekers to act on their presumed knowledge and certainty about their desire to end a pregnancy. This is not supported empirically, and does not accurately reflect people’s experience around later abortion decision-making.

Race, gender, and sexuality are barriers to abortion access overall. Most research about abortion after the first trimester focuses on women in the early second trimester. Queer and trans-identified people, incarcerated people, and people that cannot access abortion via legal means are underrepresented in the existing research and more is needed to address these gaps in the research.  In representing abortion stories, we can emphasize later abortion seekers, not shy away from their stories, and be inclusive of stories beyond those of white cis-gender women that are often focused on.