Why Are Late Abortions Performed?

As experts have known for years, unborn children begin to feel pain as early as eight weeks after fertilization, and definitely no later than 14 weeks.  In fact, University of Arkansas Professor Kanwaljeet Anand, the world’s leading authority on fetal pain, says that preborn children probably feel pain much more acutely than adults.  Their nervous systems develop early in gestation, but their pain modulation pathways do not begin to function until about six weeks after birth.1

Science proves that an unborn child, when being aborted in the second or third trimester, feels hideous pain as he or she is cut apart by the razor-sharp instruments of the abortionist.  As more and more testimonies from pro-abortionists show, many of them do indeed acknowledge that a baby aborted late in pregnancy feels pain but say that this factor should not carry any weight when a woman decides whether or not to have an abortion.  (Strangely, many of these same people are champions of animal rights, in particular efforts to ban any treatment of animals that might lead to their unnecessary pain or suffering.)

pregnant woman third trimester blue dress

Pro-abortionists often dismiss pro-life concerns by saying that there are only a few third-trimester abortions performed in the United States each year, and only for the most extreme cases, as if the rarity of an evil makes it any less evil.  For example, the National Abortion Federation claimed, without evidence, “This particular procedure [partial-birth abortion] is used only in about 500 cases per year, generally after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and most often when there is a severe fetal anomaly or maternal health problem detected late in pregnancy.”2  Planned Parenthood stated in a November 1, 1995 press release: “The procedure, dilation and extraction (D&X), is extremely rare and done only in cases when the woman’s life is in danger or in cases of extreme fetal abnormality.”

The question we must ask is whether these unsubstantiated claims are true.


Why Do Women Have Late-Term Abortions?

What Abortionists Say

But the partial-birth abortionists themselves have repeatedly contradicted the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood.  Martin Haskell, the inventor of the partial-birth abortion procedure, said that 80% of the procedures he performs are “purely elective.”3  Partial-birth abortionist James McMahon says that the primary reason given by those requesting the procedure is “depression.”4

The National Abortion Federation even contradicted its own 1993 statement that most partial-birth abortions are performed for such reasons as “lack of money or health insurance, social-psychological crises, lack of knowledge about human reproduction, etc.”5

Third-trimester abortionist George Tiller said at the 1995 National Abortion Federation conference in New Orleans, “We have some experience with late terminations; about 10,000 patients between 24 and 36 weeks and something like 800 fetal anomalies between 26 and 36 weeks in the past 5 years.”  This means that Tiller alone did 2,000 partial-birth abortions every single year, and only eight percent of them were for birth defects.


The Statistics

In addition to the testimony of the partial-birth abortionists themselves, there is a large body of evidence showing that the procedures are much more common than most people believe.6

statistics analysis graph chart data

The number of abortions that have been done since legalization is so huge that even the small percentage of late abortions done results in a very large number. For example, in 2019 alone over 860,000 abortions were performed in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The Guttmacher Institute also surveyed a large number of women obtaining late abortions and asked them their reasons for doing so.  It found:

  • Only about one percent of second- and third-trimester abortions are performed for fetal anomalies, or eugenics
  • One-third (31%) of the women surveyed said that they misjudged how far along they were
  • One-fourth (27%) said that they found it hard to arrange an earlier abortion
  • 14% said that they were afraid to tell their parents or their “partner”
  • The rest gave reasons such as taking their time to decide or waiting for a change in their relationship.8

Remember that Planned Parenthood claims that all partial-birth abortions are done for fatal birth defects or to save the life of the mother.  It turns out that the actual number done for these reasons is about one percent.


The Quick Slide to Infanticide

The fundamental nature of evil is that it always expands unless it is relentlessly opposed.  Certainly this is true of abortion.  Typically, its supporters first demand an exception just to save the mother’s life, then more exceptions for rape and incest, then for the mother’s mental and physical health, and finally abortion for any reason whatsoever throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

Now we see them agitating for so-called “after-birth abortion,” as more and more “ethicists” baldly advocate infanticide in prestigious medical journals.  As one example, it is only necessary to read the beginning and end of one article published in 2012 in the British Medical Journal to see where this train of thought is transporting us:

By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.…If economical, social or psychological circumstances change such that taking care of the offspring becomes an unbearable burden on someone, then people should be given the chance of not being forced to do something they cannot afford.9

This is how far we have fallen down the slippery slope.  The two professors who wrote this article callously approve of the murder of a newborn if the mother “cannot afford” to raise him or her.  We have arrived at the point where many say that we do not even have to justify the killing of a newborn; now the little ones have to somehow wordlessly prove that they are worthy of life, as the above article’s title reflects: “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?”

newborn-sleeping beautiful infant baby boy

In reality, American abortionists have been practicing “after-birth abortion” for a long time.

Alisa LaPolt Snow, a lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, gave startling testimony during the Florida House debate over a state Infants Born Alive Act in 2013.  She said that helping a healthy newborn who has survived a botched abortion “inserts politics where it doesn’t belong.”  She suggested that such infanticide is part of “a woman’s ability to make her own personal medical decisions.”  Representative Jim Boyd asked her “So, um, it is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I’m almost in disbelief.  If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child who is struggling for life?”  Snow replied without hesitation, “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.”

And then, of course, we have the example of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who routinely delivered full-term babies in his Philadelphia abortion mill and then severed their spinal columns with scissors.  This was done with the full knowledge of the National Abortion Federation, which had inspected his clinic, and other Pennsylvania pro-abortionists.  Not one major so-called “pro-choice” group has condemned Gosnell.  They are willing to say that he is the exception, not the rule, but that is as far as they are willing to go.

Gosnell is certainly not the first abortionist who has engaged in infanticide of born-alive babies.  There have been many cases of abortionists being brought to trial for either murdering these babies outright or setting them aside and allowing them to die of starvation and thirst.



Statistics show that that late-term abortions are rarely done for the “hard cases” of the health of the mother or fetal deformities—and the excruciating pain experienced by the baby during a late-term abortion should remind us that even in the hard cases, abortion cannot be permissible.

After all, if it is legal to kill a preborn child just hours before birth, what is to stop people from killing them after they are born?



+ Endnotes

[1] Annie Murphy Paul. “The First Ache.”  The New York Times Magazine, February 10, 2008.

[2]“Fact Sheet” on the National Abortion Federation (NAF) web page, downloaded on February 18, 1997.

[3] Partial-birth abortionist Martin Haskell, of Dayton, Ohio, quoted in Gene Peterson.  “Senator, Former Official Equate Late Term Abortion to Infanticide.”  Ludington Daily News, October 21, 1996, page 4 (original quote in American Medical News, November 20, 1995).

[4] Partial-birth abortionist James McMahon, quoted in a Sixty Minutes episode of June 2, 1996 entitled “Partial Birth Abortion Ban.”

[5] 1993 National Abortion Federation internal memorandum, quoted in United States Senator Bill Frist. Bill Frist: A Senator Speaks Out on Ethics, Respect, And Compassion (Washington, D.C.: Monument Press), 2005, page 247.

[6] There is abundant evidence that there are many more third-trimester abortions performed than there are reported, and that most of them are done for relatively trivial social reasons:

A former employee of third-trimester abortionist George Tiller, Luhra Tivis, wrote:

I witnessed evidence of the brutal, cold blooded murder of over 600 viable, healthy babies at seven, eight and nine months gestation. A very, very few of these babies, less than 2%, were handicapped.…I thought I was pro-choice and I was glad to be working in an abortion clinic.  I thought I was helping provide a noble service to women in crisis.…I was instructed to falsify the age of the babies in medical records.  I was required to lie to the mothers over the phone, as they scheduled their appointments, and to tell them that they were not “too far along.”  Then I had to note, in the records that Dr. Tiller’s needle had successfully pierced the walls of the baby’s heart, injecting the poison that brought death.

Luhra Tivis.  “Where is the Real Violence?”  Celebrate Life (American Life League), September/October 1994.

Dr. Grace Morrison of the Vitae Foundation says:

I have been protesting at Carhart’s on Mondays since December 6 [2010].  During this time, I have had the opportunity to speak with over twenty-five mothers who were there seeking late-term abortions.  There has only been ONE case of a mother seeking a late-term abortion because of a poor prenatal diagnosis.  The other mothers were reportedly there because, even at this advanced stage in their pregnancy, they decided that the baby was an inconvenience.  One mother, Kiesha, who came to Carhart’s for a late-term abortion decided to save her baby.  She just gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

Midtown Hospital was Georgia’s largest abortion mill, a member of the National Abortion Federation and heartily endorsed by Planned Parenthood.  Eventually, it was closed by officials due to its filthy conditions and endangerment of patients.  One former employee testified in an affidavit:

On April 18, 1998, at approximately 7:00 a.m., I witnessed a patient deliver an intact fetus in the toilet of a bathroom in the waiting room area.  After expelling the baby and the afterbirth, the patient walked to the operating room because there were no wheelchairs.  I opened the fetal sac so that the fetus could be weighed.  The weight was approximately 3029 grams [over 6 pounds, 10 ounces].  It was a very big fetus.  My impression is that at Midtown Hospital a procedure will be done at any gestational age as long as the patient has the money.

“Men Behaving Really Badly.”  Life Insight (National Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities), Volume 9, Number 8, October 1998.

An article in the September 17, 1996 Washington Post said:

It is possible, and maybe even likely, that the majority of these abortions are performed on normal fetuses, not on fetuses suffering from genetic or developmental abnormalities.  Furthermore, in most cases where the procedure is used, the physical health of the woman is not in jeopardy.

In After Tiller, a 2013 pro-abortion propaganda film that lionizes four partial-birth abortionists, Susan Robinson, who performs third-trimester abortions at her clinic in Albuquerque said:

Women whose fetuses have terrible abnormalities…are a lot easier for people to understand. The husband and wife want to spare their baby whatever suffering that baby would have.  Then there’s the group of women who didn’t know they were pregnant.  They were told they were not pregnant for one reason or another and they are just as desperate.  “I already have three children, my husband just lost his job and I can barely put food on the table.  If I add a new baby to this family, we’ll all go under.”

Sarah Terzo.  “Third-Trimester Abortions in America: ‘Healthy Babies at Seven, Eight and Nine Months Gestation.'”  LifeSite Daily News, February 8, 2013.

[7] Aida Torres and Jacqueline Darroch Forrest.  “Why Do Women Have Abortions?“  Family Planning Perspectives, July/August 1988 (Volume 20, Number 4), pages 169 to 176, Table 4, “Percentages of Women Who Reported that Various Reasons Contributed to Their Having a Late Abortion and Who Cited Specific Reasons as Accounting for the Longest Delay.”

[8] Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.  “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?”  British Medical Journal Online, March 2, 2012.

Brian Clowes, PhD

Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.


  1. Lilly on May 19, 2022 at 4:14 PM

    http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/late_term_abortion_usa.html#:~:text=Based%20on%20information%20reported%20by%20Arizona%2C%20Florida%2C%20and,only%203-10%25%20are%20in%20cases%20of%20maternal%20health. Statistics vary greatly from one website to another – where does the truth lie? I agree that followers of Christ should be ensuring that all girls and women have early access to healthcare, education, and birth control so that they can reduce the chances of unplanned emergencies and illnesses, or are forced to give birth before their bodies are developed leading to high-risk cesarean procedures.

  2. Dean on December 18, 2021 at 9:27 PM

    Some interesting numbers:

    27% found it difficult to arrange an abortion during the first trimester. Does the pro-life community share responsibility here for working to reduce the number of clinics that can provide abortions? If a poor woman has to travel hours to get to a clinic, or has to go to the clinic on two separate occasions, you can see how it would be difficult to arrange the procedure.

    31% misjudged how far along they were. It’s safe to assume that lower income women do not have insurance and thereby regular medical care. We should be working to make health insurance a right. This will help educate and care for those most at risk so they can avoid unwanted pregnancies or have healthy babies.

    As Christians, we have an obligation to care for people in our community. Fighting against universal health care, sex education in our schools and free birth control only causes the number of unwanted pregnancies to go up. And then we’re surprised about the number of so-called elective abortions?

    • HLI Staff on February 22, 2023 at 9:33 AM

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Since the pro-life community is working to ensure that abortions at any stage become a thing of the past, we are absolutely responsible for helping reduce the number of clinics where children are slaughtered. These numbers speak to how many women get late-term and partial birth abortions for reasons other than fatal birth defects or danger to the life of the mother. Given that we are frequently told that these are the only reasons that someone could or would obtain a 3rd trimester abortion, the fact that about 99% (as shown in this very article) of these abortions are for other reasons is extremely alarming.

      Regarding your push for universal healthcare as a right, healthcare is not a human right. We do agree that everyone should have access to affordable and quality healthcare. However, given that that care is offered by human workers who also need to provide for themselves and their families, it is not an inalienable right like the right to life. Furthermore, government run healthcare has universally led to the government choosing who lives and who dies, who is a burden for the taxpayers and who is “of use to society” in every nation where it is tried. You are absolutely right that Christians have an obligation to care for their community, however, as Christians we also have a duty to speak the truth even when it is uncomfortable and to hold to Christ’s teachings. Christ healed and forgave but he also commanded “Go, and now sin no more” John 8:11. Adding even more explicit sex education that offers no respect to the dignity of the human person, that encourages “consequence-free sex” and holds teenagers and adults to a standard little above animals is not the way, and free birth control only furthers that mindset.

      We do have a great need for education on human sexuality, education that values the whole human person, body and soul as made in the image of God. We need authentic Christian teaching that respects the entirety of human life, no matter how poor, or vulnerable or unwanted. And we need less of the contraceptive mindset that expects people to act on their basest instincts, while ignoring the procreative nature of sex, and then offers abortion as a solution to the frequent failure of birth control. This is what HLI strives to do, to educate and inspire and spread a truly Christ-centered understanding of the dignity of human life, no matter the age or race, religion, or social status.

      I hope this addresses your concerns.

      HLI Staff

  3. Rose Elfrey on August 17, 2021 at 7:04 PM

    I think asking the question “did you enjoy this?“ Is the wrong question. No, I did not enjoy it. It makes me sick to my stomach to read this. But, I think it’s important to know the facts And to educate other people on the facts.

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