Late-term abortion number jumble

Last year when late-term abortion provider George Tiller was killed inside his church, the media devoted many stories to late-term abortions. One of the things that I noted at the time was that I erroneously believed there were only three men in the country willing to abort late-term and full-term fetuses: Tiller, LeRoy Carhart and Warren Hern. This was based on the claims of the men themselves, which were repeated by many in the media. So, for instance, the Los Angeles Times' Robin Abcarian wrote:

Tiller had been the only abortion provider in Wichita, Kan., and his family's decision to close the facility leaves only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions.

The story repeated the claim. The Washington Post handled it better, I thought, by citing a 2001 survey of a few states saying that only a handful of abortion clinics and doctors were willing to perform late-term abortions.

Today the same reporter -- Rob Stein -- has a story about one of these doctors offering his services for women whose unborn children are closer to birth in Germantown, Maryland:

A Nebraska doctor who is one of the few in the country to perform abortions late in a pregnancy is planning to begin offering the controversial procedures at a clinic in Germantown, Md., an official said Tuesday. ...

Only a handful of doctors perform abortions in late pregnancy, and Carhart has been the target of antiabortion protests.

I had happened to read a link to a much more recent survey than the 2001 cited by Stein in his reports last year. It appeared at the pro-life news site LifeNews. It cited a 2008 report, based on 2005 data, from The Guttmacher Institute. That institute used to be Planned Parenthood's research arm, although it's now independent of the country's largest abortion provider. Anyway, the 2008 study indicates that they found 1,787 abortion doctors. Only 20 percent offer abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and only 8 percent offer abortions after 24 weeks. I think the earliest a baby has survived is around 21 weeks gestation.

Here are the goods from the Guttmacher Institute report:

Gestational limits. Most providers have lower and upper gestational limits for abortion services, and some women may have difficulty finding a provider if they seek an abortion too early or too late in pregnancy. For example, some providers will not perform an abortion if they cannot see the gestational sac on an ultrasound scan, which usually is not possible until 4-5 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period.

Forty percent of providers in 2005 offered abortions at four or fewer weeks since the woman's last menstrual period, about the same proportion as in 2001 (37%). The proportion of providers offering services increases with gestation and peaks--at 96%--at eight weeks. Sixty-seven percent of facilities offered at least some second-trimester abortion services (13 weeks or later). Twenty percent of providers offered abortions after 20 weeks, and only 8% at 24 weeks; comparable figures for 2001 were 24% and 13%, respectively.

So that means that some 350 doctors perform abortions after 20 weeks and more than 140 perform after 24 weeks.

LifeNews notes:

Mary Balch, an attorney who handle state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, says the numbers are important because mainstream media outlets have attempted to make it appear there are very few practitioners willing to do late or late-term abortions.

"In an interview with Colorado abortionist Warren Hern published online November 5, 2010, Time Magazine perpetuated the prevalent myth that there are few, if any abortionists who perform abortions late in pregnancy," she told "The Washington Post's Rob Stein also furthered the myth in a November 10 piece saying that Carhart is 'is one of the few in the country to perform abortions late in pregnancy.'"

"The truth is, abortions in the fifth month of pregnancy and later are widely available," she added.

It does seem odd. If you have more than 350 doctors performing abortions after 20 weeks and another 140-plus doing it after 24 weeks, that should be mentioned in news stories. And if reporters are using "late-term" to refer to babies who are even closer to birth, that should be clarified, too. I've heard of "late-term" referring to abortions after 20 weeks but also to abortions after 12 or 16 weeks. I'm not familiar with it being used to describe abortions on even older fetuses. Anyway, the abortion debate can get awfully euphamistic and it helps to be absolutely clear about what gestational age we're talking about.

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