Background

In its landmark 1973 abortion cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion is not absolute and that states may restrict or ban abortions after fetal viability, provided that their policies meet certain requirements. In these and subsequent decisions, the Court has held that 

Although the vast majority of states restrict later-term abortions, many of these restrictions have been struck down. Most often, courts have voided the limitations because they do not contain a health exception; contain an unacceptably narrow health exception; or do not permit a physician to determine viability in each individual case, but rather rely on a rigid construct based on specific weeks of gestation or trimester. 

Nonetheless, statutes conflicting with the Supreme Court’s requirements remain on the books in some states. For example, the law in Michigan permits a postviability abortion only if the woman’s life is endangered and laws in several other states ban abortion at a specific point in gestation. Most recently, several states have enacted laws that ban abortion at 20 weeks’ postfertilization—well before viability—based on the spurious assertion that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Dating a pregnancy from fertilization goes against convention. When discussing pregnancy, medical professionals customarily date a pregnancy from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period, because that is the date most women can pinpoint.  Fertilization commonly takes place two weeks after the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period. Accordingly, a pregnancy of normal gestational length is considered to last approximately 40 weeks from the beginning of a woman’s last menstrual period—or 38 weeks’ postfertilization.

Highlights

 

Later Abortion Policies

 

STATE

STATE RESTRICTIONS ON LATER ABORTION

EXCEPTIONS

WHEN A LATER ABORTION IS PERFORMED A SECOND PHYSICIAN MUST:

 

Life and Health

Life and Physical Health

Life

 

 

Limit on Abortion After Viability

Limit on Abortion at a Specific Gestational Age

Attend

Approve

 

Alabama

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

XΨ

 

Postviability

Postviability

 

Arizona

   X

XΨ

 

 

  Postviability

 

 

Arkansas

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

  X†,Ψ

 

Postviability

 

 

California

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Connecticut

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Delaware

X

 

X‡​

 

 

 

 

Florida

 

24 weeks LMP

 

 XΨ

 

 

X

 

Georgia

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

   X‡​,Ψ

 

 

 

 

Hawaii

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Idaho

X

 

 

X

 

Postviability

 

Illinois

X

 

X

 

 

X

 

 

Indiana

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

XΨ

 

X

 

 

Iowa

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

  

 XΨ

 

 

 

 

Kansas

 

22 weeks LMP*

 

XΨ

 

 

Postviability

 

Kentucky

 

20 weeks postfertilization* 

 

 XΨ

 

 

 

 

Louisiana

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

  X‡​,Ψ

 

Postviability

 

 

Maine

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Maryland

X

 

  X‡​

 

 

 

 

 

Massachusetts

 

24 weeks post-implantation

X

 

 

 

 

 

Michigan

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

Minnesota

X

 

X

 

 

20 weeks

 

 

Mississippi

 

20 weeks LMP*

 

 X‡​,Ψ

 

 

 

 

Missouri

X

 

 

XΨ

 

X

 

 

Montana

X

 

   XΨ

 

 

 

X

 

Nebraska

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

XΨ

 

 

 

 

Nevada

 

24 weeks postfertilization

X

 

 

 

 

 

New York

 

24 weeks postfertilization£​

 

 

X£

X

 

 

North Carolina

 

20 weeks LMP

X

 

 

 

 

 

North Dakota

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

X

 

 X

 

 

Ohio

 

20 weeks postfertilization* 

 

 XΨ

 

X

X

 

Oklahoma

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

XΨ

 

Postviability

 

 

Pennsylvania

 

24 weeks LMP

   XΨ

 

 

X

X

 

Rhode Island

 

24 weeks LMP

 

 

X

 

 

 

South Carolina

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

   

X‡​,Ψ

 

 

X

 

South Dakota

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

 X

 

 

 

 

Tennessee

X

 

 

 XΨ

 

 X

 

Texas

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

 

X‡​,Ψ

 

 

 

 

Utah

X

 

X†,‡​,Ψ

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia

 

3rd trimester LMP

X

 

 

 

X

 

Washington

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

West Virginia

 

22 weeks LMP*

 

X‡​,Ψ

 

 

 

 

Wisconsin

 

20 weeks postfertilization*

XΨ

 

 

 

 

 

Wyoming

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

TOTAL

17

26

19

20

4

14

10

 

LMP- Calculates the beginning of pregnancy from the woman's last menstrual period. States that do not explicitly enumerate the manner in which gestational age should be determined are labeled as "LMP" in keeping with standard medical practice.

Postfertilization- Calculates the beginning of pregnancy from the date of conception; 20 weeks postfertilization is equivalent to 22 weeks LMP.

Post-implantation- Calculates the beginning of pregnancy from the date of implantation; 24 weeks implantation is equivalent to 27 weeks LMP.

  Enforcement permanently enjoined by a court order; policy not in effect

*    Based on the assertion that the fetus can feel pain at 18 or 20 weeks postfertilization.

†    Also permitted in case of rape or incest.

‡    Also permitted in case of fetal abnormality; in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia the law applies to a lethal abnormality.

Ψ   The exception permits abortions when the woman suffers from a condition that risks “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

£ A 2016 New York Attorney General opinion determined that the state’s law conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion, and that abortion care is permissible under the U.S. Constitution to protect a woman’s health, or when the fetus is not viable.