It can be difficult to decide how to respond to an unplanned pregnancy — and if you are thinking about abortion, there is a limited window of time to make your decision.
This may leave you wondering: When is it too late to have an abortion? When are most abortions performed?
Abortion time limits can be complex and may vary based on a number of factors, including the method of abortion a woman is seeking, her state’s laws, and her individual circumstances. Here, learn more about when to get an abortion.
How Early Can You Get an Abortion?
Some women are certain of their abortion decision almost immediately after discovering they are pregnant. In general, the earliest you can get an abortion is when your pregnancy can be confirmed with an ultrasound — often within the first few weeks of your pregnancy.
Women who choose early term abortion may have more options for the procedure, including medical and aspiration abortion. It may also be easier for them to find an abortion provider, as many clinics are more likely to perform early abortion procedures than late stage abortion. In addition, early pregnancy abortion may involve fewer risks and complications, more mild side effects, and lower costs than late term abortion procedures.
It is never too early to begin exploring your unplanned pregnancy options. If you feel that abortion is right for you, you can contact a clinic or healthcare provider at any time to get more information about your early abortion options.
How Late Can You Get an Abortion?
For some women, it takes longer to make an abortion decision. These women often ask, “How far along can you get an abortion?”
There are a number of reasons why a woman may be considering abortion later in her pregnancy:
- She may be unaware of her pregnancy or how far along it is.
- She may have difficulty deciding how she wants to handle an unplanned pregnancy.
- She may have health problems that develop or worsen during her pregnancy.
- Serious health problems may be detected in the baby later in the pregnancy.
- She may have difficulty making arrangements and raising money for an abortion.
The latest you can get an abortion depends on the type of abortion you are seeking. Medical abortions are generally performed within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, while aspiration abortion may be performed up to 12 or 14 weeks.
After these “abortion deadlines” have passed, it may be more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion. The medical procedures may be more complex, involve a longer recovery time, and increase the risk of complications. The abortion may also be more expensive, and it may be more difficult to find a provider.
There are also some legal restrictions on late abortion. Because there is no single abortion limit in the U.S., women should check their state laws to determine whether there are any restrictions on access to abortions after the first trimester. Most of the time, abortions cannot legally be performed after 24 weeks of pregnancy, because this is when a baby is considered “viable” — able to survive outside of the womb.
Abortion Timeline: Abortion Procedures by Trimester
The timing of a woman’s abortion decision can affect her abortion experience. Below, find information about what to expect during first, second, and third trimester abortions.
- 1st Trimester Abortion: First trimester abortion refers to any abortion completed within the first 12 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. This early stage abortion typically gives women the most options, including medical and surgical methods. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 89 percent of abortions occur within the first trimester, with one-third of abortions taking place before the sixth week of pregnancy.
- 2nd Trimester Abortion: Second trimester abortions generally take place between 12–20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. However, second trimester abortion is much less common than abortion during the first trimester — according to the Centers for Disease Control, only 7 percent of abortions are performed at 14–20 weeks gestation. Medical abortions are not an option after the first trimester; dilation and evacuation, or D&E abortion, is the most common second trimester abortion procedure.
- 3rd Trimester Abortion: Third trimester abortions, often also called late term abortions, are very rare; only about 2 percent of abortions are performed past the 21st week of pregnancy. In fact, a number of states have late term abortion laws banning these procedures except in certain extreme medical situations, and third trimester abortion clinics are difficult to come by. At this point in a woman’s pregnancy, a D&E abortion may no longer be an option. Instead, she may need to have an induction abortion, which is similar to induced labor.
Abortion is a time-sensitive decision, and it is important that you don’t wait too long before seeking the services you need. However, it is also important that you don’t rush into any decision that you are not truly ready to make.
As you explore your unplanned pregnancy options, consider speaking with a licensed counselor. Whether you are early or late in your pregnancy, these professionals can help you assess your options and determine the one that is right for you.