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Late term abortions

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a place far away from here, I was employed by a state health department in the midwest. One of my duties was to oversee the annual and quarterly summary reports on therapeutic abortions performed in Our Fair State. State law required all providers to report each procedure along with the reason for the abortion.

Ordinarily, I just looked at the report tables and said to myself, "Yeah, that looks plausible." One day while preparing the annual summary report I decided to look at the original reports. Something that was apparent in the tables suddenly struck home. The justification for early (at the time early meant 6-8 weeks estimated gestational age) procedures was often what my boss termed "flimsy." "Mental health of patient," was a popular one.

But once you got past those early term procedures, every data point was official paperwork documenting a personal tragedy. I distinctly remember a line documenting an anencephalic fetus, and another a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the mother.

Women don’t wake up one morning in the 18th or 19th week of gestation and decide that they’re tired of being pregnant, singing Hey, hey!, Whaddaya say? Let’s go get an abortion today!

Every one of these procedures marks the end of a period of hope for a family. Andrew Sullivan is mistaken if he really believes that better access to Plan B, ordinary contraceptives, and streamlined adoption will end late term abortions.

The early adolescent girl who hides her pregnancy until it couldn’t be hidden is very much the exception rather than the rule. There is a serious medical need for late-term abortions. Telling a woman that she must carry a malformed fetus to term, although there is a high probability that it will die on the warming table (and a much higher probability that it will die within the first year) is cruelty. If the woman and her family choose that course for their own reasons, that is their choice (it’s why it’s called choice, after all). But universal access to contraception will not end anencephaly, conjoined twins, cancer, preeclampsia and all the other tragedies that can indicate a therapeutic abortion.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for all of us.

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I'm a professor of statistics at New Mexico State University with some expertise in government statistics and work experience in state and federal government. My professional expertise is in experimental design and analysis, with a sideline in survey design and analysis.

My hobby is music making with large lengths of brass tubing.