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A third trimester abortion — or late term abortion — is a medical procedure that takes place following the sixth month of a pregnancy. The procedure involves removal of a fetus and subsequent termination of the pregnancy. Reasons for performing a third trimester abortion may include a medical issue with the pregnancy that threatens the mother’s health or fulfilling the mother’s wishes for termination. Late term abortions have long been one of the most contentious types of abortion, with many political and social activists divided on the issue.
Pregnancies are divided into three-month intervals, or trimesters. Each period is marked by certain milestones in fetal development. The third trimester in an average pregnancy typically involves superficial aspects of development like weight gain, bone thickening, and nail generation. Any abortion performed during the third trimester will likely necessitate some type of surgical extraction of the fetus.
While most abortions take place during the first trimester, research indicates a varying number of reasons why women opt for a third trimester abortion. On many occasions, the pregnancy is not recognized until it has reached the later stages. Economic or other life hardships may also prevent a woman from obtaining an earlier abortion. Health issues impacting either the pregnant woman or the fetus may arise later in the pregnancy and thus influence an abortion decision as well. Sometimes, a woman may simply delay making a final decision about her pregnancy options.
Controversy often surrounds the third trimester abortion due to debates about the fetus’ development. Since many fetuses have developed key vital organs by the time of the third trimester, opponents of late term abortion view the fetus as viable, or able to be born. Abortion critics in general may view any fetus as a living being, and therefore see the practice of abortion and third trimester abortion in particular as a wrongful killing. Supporters of abortion, on the other hand, argue for a woman’s right to continue or terminate a pregnancy regardless of the time period of the pregnancy. Further, third trimester abortions are often necessitated by health concerns for the mother or other factors that merit consideration.
Due to ongoing debate, laws and viewpoints vary widely by region and are often subject to change. Some regions of the world ban legal abortion entirely, while others place restrictions on late term abortions. Perhaps the most banned form of abortion is partial birth abortion — or dilation and extraction — in which the fetus is partially delivered before being terminated.