Tools for Advocates

Inaccurate ideas about fetal pain, the point of viability, and the impact of abortion on physical and mental health are often used by anti-choice policymakers to limit or even ban abortion at certain points during a pregnancy. The resources listed and linked below provide brief but thorough synopses of contemporary scientific evidence in these topic areas. These include:

For a more detailed list of research related to each of these areas, please see Related Research

Resources for Educating Policymakers Considering a 20 Week/Later Abortion Ban

Resources for Educating Policymakers Considering a Methods Ban (D&E ban)

Talking About "Later" Abortion

Communications about what has become known as “later” abortion has been too often framed by those who want to take away a woman’s decision making when it comes to her health. As restrictions such as method bans and 20-week bans continue to be proposed, here are some suggestions for ways to move the discussion into more favorable frameworks, increase awareness about the harmful impact of these restrictions while avoiding messages that further stigmatize abortion:

Emphasize the core value of women’s health. While health is a core value on many abortion issues, it is much more dominant when people consider abortion after 12 weeks.

  • Example: “A woman’s health should guide important medical decisions throughout her pregnancy, including whether to have an abortion as her pregnancy progresses.”

Move away from the phrase “later” abortion. The term elicits an immediate and visceral negative reaction from many audiences. Use other language to raise awareness and connect with people on this issue. Some examples to consider using: “as a pregnancy progresses,” “at different points in pregnancy,” “throughout a pregnancy,” and “after 12 weeks.”

Answer “Why later?” not “Why an abortion?” Detailing the reasons a woman has an abortion often leads to judgment rather than empathy. Instead, assert that a woman has made the decision to have an abortion.

  • Example: “When a woman has decided to end her pregnancy, it is important that she have access to safe medical care.” 

Because most people lack awareness of why a woman would seek an abortion after 12 weeks, it is essential to establish:

  • It is not always possible for a woman to get an abortion when she would like to or once she has made her decision; and
  • Examples of the many barriers and restrictions, not in her control, that can stand in the way of getting an abortion.

Connect individual bans with other barriers to access. Talking about abortion after 12 weeks in a broader context and connecting current restrictions to other barriers to abortion brings the focus back to the experience of the woman.

The Myth of "Fetal Pain"

Medical professionals have not reached a firm agreement upon a definite point at which a fetus begins to feel pain. Research demonstrates that the neural pathways required to feel pain do not fully develop in a fetus until the third trimester of pregnancy. [1]  Although there is no conclusive evidence that a fetus could feel pain at 22 weeks LMP, many US state legislatures prevent women from accessing abortion at that point, or later, in a pregnancy.[2] The fact sheets and summary linked below outline the current scientific evidence and challenge the existence of "fetal pain".

Key articles:

View the complete Later Abortion Initiative research summary about fetal pain here.

The Science of Viability

Viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside of a woman's body, has not been clearly established in the legal or medical communities. Nevertheless, as of 2016, 20 states have banned abortion at various points based on unsupported theories about viability.[2]In a survey of labor and delivery practices of over 1000 US obstetrician-gynecologists, they identified 24 weeks LMP to be the point at which they considered a fetus to be viable.[3]

Key articles:

View the complete Later Abortion Initiative research summary about viability here.

Mental Health and Abortion

Although sound research has demonstrated that having an abortion does not cause depression or any other mental illness, this inaccurate idea has been used as a scare tactic by those opposed to abortion.[4] The materials below summarize the current research, demonstrate the absence of a link between abortion and mental illness, and clarify the difference between mental illness and a transient emotional response to a life event.

Key articles:

View the complete Later Abortion Initiative research summary about abortion and mental health here.

Abortion and Breast Cancer

Although there is no research that shows a relationship between incidence of breast cancer and having an abortion, those opposed to abortion continue to claim that abortion is harmful to women’s health to deter women from seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy.  The materials below summarize the current research and demonstrate the absence of a link between abortion and breast cancer.

Key articles:

View the complete Later Abortion Initiative research summary about abortion and breast cancer here.

1Fabrizi L, Slater R, Worley A, Meek J, Boyd S, Olhede S,  Fitzgerald M. A shift in sensory processing that enables the developing human brain to discriminate touch from pain. Current Biology. 2011; 21(18): 1552-1558

2Guttmacher Institute. State policies on later abortions. State Policies in Brief. March 1, 2016. Accessed: August 10, 2016

3Morgan MA, Goldenberg RL, Schulkin J. Obstetrician-gynecologists' practices regarding preterm birth at the limit of viability. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine. 2008; 21(2): 115-121

4. Charles VE, Polis CB, Sridhara SK, Blum RW. Abortion and long-term mental health outcomes: a systematic review of the evidence.Contraception. 2008; 78(6): 436-450