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A fact sheet on late-term abortions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Literature supporting the proposed ordinance banning most abortions after 20 weeks has described the procedure for late-term abortions in lurid terms and shown graphic pictures of fetus body parts.

Meanwhile, opponents say there is a range of medical conditions that could prompt a woman to consider a late-term abortion.

Here are two types of late-term abortion procedures most commonly used in New Mexico and some of the medical conditions that may affect a festus or pregnant woman.

Induced labor abortion

Induced labor abortion is the standard procedure used at Southwest Women’s Options, and other clinics in the nation, to perform third-trimester abortions, according to the New Mexico Medical Board.

The technique was discussed during a two-day hearing in November 2012 and described in detail in an order handed down by the board in February.

The protocol involves killing the fetus, dilating the cervix over a period of two days, and inducing labor to deliver the dead fetus from the womb, according to testimony.

The fetus first is injected with the drug Digoxin to stop the heart. Over a period of two days, drugs are used to prepare the cervix for delivery.

On the third or fourth day, labor is induced using Misoprostol and Pitocin, which are standard obstetric drugs used to induce labor.

Dilation and evacuation

Dilation and evacuation, or D&E abortion, is the most common method of second-trimester abortion in the United States, accounting for more than 98 percent, according to an April 2009 report in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. D&E is usually performed later than 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood provides this description on its website:

A woman may be offered sedation or intravenous medication. The cervix will be prepared for the procedure though medication or absorbent dilators inserted a day or a few hours before the procedure. This slowly stretches open the cervix. A woman is given antibiotics to prevent infection.

In later second-trimester procedures, a shot may be given through the abdomen to make sure the fetus’ heart stops before the procedure begins. A numbing medication is injected into or near the cervix.

Medical instruments and a suction machine empty the uterus.

A D&E usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes, but more time is needed to prepare the cervix. There is a recovery period of about one hour.

A physician may compress the head of the fetus with forceps either for a D&E or induced labor abortion, particularly after 16 weeks, when the fetus’s head calcifies, or hardens.

What are some medical conditions that might lead a pregnant woman to consider a late-term abortion?

Here are several severe fetal defects, some of which can make it unlikely or impossible for a child to survive after birth:

  • Trisomy – A family of genetic disorders that occur when three chromosomes form in place of the usual pair, resulting in severe and sometimes fatal defects.
  • Anencephaly – A fetus that develops without significant parts of the brain and skull.
  • Ectopia cordis – A fetal heart that develops outside the chest.
  • A variety of conditions can cause the fetus to develop without amniotic fluid, preventing the development of lungs.

Other problems during pregnancy can result in life-threatening conditions for the mother. They include:

  • Pre-eclampsia, previously called toxemia – a condition marked by high blood pressure that can lead to organ damage and life-threatening seizures for the mother. It occurs when the placenta fails to connect to the walls of the uterus.
  • Underlying medical conditions aggravated by pregnancy, such as diabetes and heart disease.

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