A Statement on Later Abortion

In 2010, Catholics for Choice convened a meeting about later abortionwith another organization, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, to provide a chance to discuss a topic even seasoned advocates are not well informed about and to explore what, if anything, can and should be done for women who need later abortions.

We heard from experts about a range of issues in the current debate, including fetal survivability and viability, fetal pain, mental health and fetal abnormalities. We had a frank and thoughtful conversation about what this new information means for our organizations individually and for the movement as a whole, something that Catholics for Choice has carried forward in our work. From this work came the following statement—not intended or designed to be an all-encompassing or exhaustive statement but more a moral and ethical assertion as to how we feel about this issue, why we think this issue matters and why in good conscience we must address it.

As organizations, we believe in bodily autonomy and a woman’s right to choose whether and when to have a child. We also believe in the right to receive safe medical care.

We stand with women who need abortions later in pregnancy, and with the providers who care for them.

We trust women. When we see a woman in need of a later abortion we know that she is worthy of our support and respect. She should be able to trust that she is in the hands of a provider who will help make her decision a reality. We believe that the right to choose is grounded in respect for her decision and the process and time it took her to make that decision.

As advocates for abortion rights, we recognize the need for policies that address the full range of a woman’s reproductive needs, including maternity leave, subsidized childcare, quality prenatal care and expanded educational opportunities for pregnant teens. Support for free, accessible contraception has always been a cornerstone of this agenda. We have argued consistently for all these things. Access to abortion is an inextricable piece of women’s reproductive health needs, and we believe that an ethical view that allows for later abortion is inseparable from one that respects any aspect of a woman’s right to choose.

We believe that women are moral decision makers, and consider their options carefully when faced with an unintended pregnancy. It is more important that a woman make the right decision for her and her family than that she make an early one. Women deserve to have all the time they need in order to make the best pregnancy decision for themselves and for their families, even if this means needing a later abortion.

Later abortion is something that many people find problematic—even those who support early abortion. This is often because they think it is unnecessary, preventable and requested too frequently. None of these things is true.

We believe that early and late abortions carry the same moral burden because we accept that all abortions end a potential human life. We further believe that the moral responsibility of decision making, whatever the gestation, should rest with women and their families, because only they can know their circumstances and the results of their actions.

We are committed to explaining why later abortions are necessary and why women and their doctors are competent to make moral decisions and to act on them responsibly. This is not a matter of “messaging” or staying true to an abstract prochoice principle. It is because healthcare that does not include access to later abortions does not meet what women, and society, need.

We believe that the provision of an abortion procedure requested by a woman in the second or third trimester is preferable to its denial, since the denial of abortion has consequences for a woman’s life, for the lives that are touched by her life and for the life of the child that may be born.

We defend later abortions because we understand that women need them, just as they need early abortion—and, indeed, just as they need contraception.

We trust women to make responsible choices for themselves and their families. There is no reason to assume that any higher burden of justification is required than for earlier procedures.

Specifically, we believe that we have a responsibility to stand with each and every woman who seeks to make decisions about her own reproductive life, like abortion, using the counsel of the professionals, friends and family she chooses to involve. There is no debate about whether a woman is a person, a moral agent. Women must be allowed and encouraged to make the decision that is right for them whether that is to become pregnant or to remain pregnant. Truly, women are the only ones who can make the right decision for themselves. This is the very essence of what it means to be prochoice.

Abortion Care Network
Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSiRH)
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
Black Women’s Health Imperative
Catholics for Choice
Episcopal Women’s Caucus
Medical Students for Choice
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
National Council of Jewish Women
Washington National Health Law Program (NHeLP)
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Network of Abortion Funds
National Organization for Women (NOW) 

Catholics for Choice