The anti-choice myth that abortion is available right up to birth is prevalent in Canada, which has no legal restrictions on abortion, including no gestational limits. But proponents of abortion on request aim to give women access to abortion as early as possible, and women who want an abortion will try to obtain one as early as possible. Later abortions are usually only sought under more desperate circumstances, such as when a woman is delayed while raising funds, she didn’t know she was pregnant, or something unexpected and serious has happened during the pregnancy to make it unviable. It is insulting to both women and doctors to imply that third-trimester abortions are happening frequently or on a ‘casual’ basis – and no laws are needed to oversee this because doctors already act professionally and women act responsibly.
In western countries, abortions in the third trimester are done only in very rare exceptional situations – sometimes when the woman has a serious illness, but usually when there is a severe malformation of the fetus with little or no chance of survival after birth. An example is anencephaly, a situation where the fetus develops without a brain. In these cases, an abortion must be possible later in pregnancy. Other examples of serious fetal conditions are spina bifida, major heart defects, chromosomal abnormalities, and missing organs and limbs.
Comprehensive testing of fetuses that would uncover such serious defects are typically performed just before 20 weeks, so it’s not possible for most women to obtain early abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality. Proponents of safe legal abortion often say: “As early as possible, as late as necessary,” because they recognize the tragic necessity of these rare third-trimester abortions.
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Late Term Abortions (after 20 weeks)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Facts About Anencephaly (2015)
Orlando Women’s Center, Late Abortion Due to Fetal Anomaly
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, 18-20 Week Screening Pregnancy Ultrasound