As the number of chemical abortions surged, the percentage of early abortions has grown, to the point that more than two-thirds of abortions are performed when the unborn child is just 6 weeks old or less. (Some refer to this at “8 weeks gestation,” measuring pregnancy from the date of the mother’s last menstrual period, or “LMP,” though fertilization or conception does not occur until two weeks later.) And while later abortions were common in the early days following Roe v. Wade, today more than 90% are performed in the first trimester.
For practical purposes, this means that while a law geared towards protecting unborn children older than six weeks postfertilization would have saved about half the babies aborted forty years ago, today it would only affect about a third. And if trends continue as they are, it would protect even less in the years to come.
According to the most recent surveillance report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which monitors abortions reported to state health departments, 67% of abortions in 2014 were performed at 8 weeks gestation (when the baby is 6 weeks old) or less. An additional 24.5% were performed that year at 9-13 weeks gestation (fetal age 7 to 11 weeks).
The CDC says that “gestational age,” the measurement it uses in reports, is “based on the clinician’s estimate” in most states it studies and from a woman’s last menstrual period in a couple of others. In the two states where the state records probable postfertilization age (Arkansas and Texas), two weeks are added to that age “to provide a corresponding measure to clinician’s estimate.”
Again, what this means is that those babies the CDC says were aborted at 8 weeks gestation were actually 6 weeks old, and those listed at 9 to 13 weeks were actually between 7 weeks and 11 weeks old.
Babies are still quite developed at this age, displaying brain waves at 6 weeks, a heartbeat at somewhere near three weeks (though it may take a few more weeks to be picked up on ordinary ultrasound) and, of course, their full complement of DNA, which from the moment of conception determines physical characteristics like sex, eye color, shoe size, and brain capacity.
Though limbs are present, fingers are forming, and the child’s head and eyes are easy to pick out, these babies bodies are smaller, their bones less calcified, making it easier for someone seeking to perform a surgical or chemical abortion.
Abortionists doing surgical abortions prefer earlier ones because they are easier to perform. At this stage, the bones are softer, the skull is smaller, the cervix does not need to be as dilated for the surgical instruments to be inserted and for the baby, in whole or in parts, to be pulled or suctioned out.
A younger age also makes chemical abortions easier. One drug (typically mifepristone) attempts to shut down the baby’s life support system, while a second (usually the prostaglandin misoprostol) stimulates powerful uterine contractions to dislodge and expel the tiny corpse. The bigger, more developed the baby, the harder the prostaglandin has to work, sometimes requiring additional doses.
Abortions have been being performed earlier and earlier since the earliest days of Roe v. Wade, when the Supreme Court, in 1973, legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy
In 1973, the first year of the Roe regime, just over a third (36.1%) of abortions were performed at 8 weeks gestation or less (again six weeks fetal age), the CDC says. That figure reached a majority (51.1%) in 1977 and, except for two years, 1988 and 1989, where it briefly dipped to 48.7% and 49.8%, it remained in the 50th percentile until 2002, when it hit 60.1%. 2014 appears to be the year it crossed the two-thirds mark, hitting 67%
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Increasing chemical abortions, specifically targeting younger babies, have been a part of this trend. With the abortion pill RU-486, or mifepristone, first approved for U.S. sale in September of 2000, the use of chemical abortions has taken off. CDC figures show chemical abortions accounting for about one in eight abortions in 2005, and then nearly a quarter in 2014. Another source, the Guttmacher Institute, which has data on some states the CDC lacks, put the figure at 29.4% for 2014.
With the abortion industry pushing chemical abortions heavily and hoping to offer these by internet and mail, all signs point to abortions at this stage continuing to skyrocket, skewing abortions overall more and more towards earlier gestations.