From an interview with late-term abortionist Susan Robinson:
What’s the difference between how people perceive late abortions and what you see at your clinic?
I think that the public perceives first of all that late abortion could be completely eliminated if people would only get their act together and have their abortions earlier, which is completely untrue.
I also think that people assume that women do this casually—that they’ve known they were pregnant for thirty weeks and then were on their way down to the hair salon and they saw the abortion clinic and they decided to just walk in to avoid the inconveniences of motherhood. That also is completely untrue. No matter how available birth control and first-trimester and second-trimester abortion is, you are always going to have the need for later abortions. A woman would never do this casually. The procedure lasts three or four days, and is fairly disagreeable.
Can you tell me more about the “these people need to get their act together” argument?
Well, a large percentage of our patients had no idea that they were pregnant. People go, “How could this possibly be?” Well, look at that reality show. It happens. Maybe you’re a little heavy and you already have irregular periods, or you had intercourse once, several months ago, and the guy said he pulled out and there’s no sex education in your school so you think everything’s fine. Or you never have periods because you’re very thin, or a doctor has told you you were infertile.
I could tell you a million reasons why women who are perfectly smart—and they are, these are not stupid women—don’t come to know they are pregnant. They have no weight changes, they don’t feel sick, they don’t feel movement, or if they do they think it’s gas. Suddenly someone says, “Hmm, your stomach’s looking big, have you taken a pregnancy test?” And the person may have taken a test, and it may have come out negative—I’ve had women that only got a positive on their third test. And either way they think they just got pregnant. They have no idea they’re in their 24th week. So they make an appointment for an abortion, and it takes a few weeks, and they have their ultrasound and find out that they’re at 27 weeks, which is too far for an abortion anywhere. So then what happens? They either give up or have a baby, or they go on the Internet and they find us.
What’s the farthest that someone’s ever traveled to come to you?
I guess probably from Afghanistan. This was a woman in the US military, a woman who couldn’t get leave to get her abortion until she was that far along. I’ve also had women from Saudi Arabia, where seeking or doing an abortion is a capital crime, and a couple people from the UK and France. We get them from Canada all the time, although the Canadians are very good with abortion care up to 24 weeks. And all the states, definitely; women have come to us from every state.
So how do you draw lines in the case of a healthy fetus?
It’s hard. Essentially I have to say to myself, “Is this a very compelling story?” And I feel very bad about that because who am I to say, “Well, it’s compelling because you’re 11,” and then I see a similar case when the girl’s 14 and I think, okay… but then, what if you’re 15, what if you’re 16? How do we draw these lines? What is the ethical difference between doing an abortion at 29 and 32 weeks? Is there a meaningful ethical difference? Can I justify it? Will I have to justify it, and to whom?
It comes down to a question of safety, many times. If I feel that there is a likelihood that there will be complications, and I won’t be able to finish the procedure in the office—and we’re an office, not a surgery center—I will only do the procedure if there is a fetal anomaly. Not for elective procedures. And I say “elective” as if the woman is choosing between pairs of shoes, and it’s not like that, not even close, but I will turn that patient down. For example, in the [documentary], I had a patient from France and she just desperately did not want to be pregnant—but she was 35 weeks, and gestational age is plus or minus three weeks, so she could’ve been at 38 weeks, and that’s just too far along. It wouldn’t be safe.
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