Forcing a Pro-Choice Crisis: What About Third Trimester Abortions?

Forzando una crisis pro-elección. ¿Qué pasa con los abortos en el tercer trimestre?

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
June 15, 2009

What do LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, and George Tiller have in common? They are among an unknown number who perform abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy (the third trimester being the seventh, eighth, and ninth month!)

For two decades I have been proclaiming from the pulpits of America that abortions happen in the third trimester. Many Americans find it hard to believe. Now, in the aftermath of the death of George Tiller, this fact is getting a bit more attention.

The Associated Press reported on June 2 in an article by Eric Olson that physician LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska wants to continue performing abortions at this late stage, but he, as well as Warren Hern, also want to make sure enough physicians are trained in how to do so.

How many are we talking about? The AP story reported, “Carhart said 75 to 100 of the "several thousand" abortions he performs annually are in the third trimester.”

Stanley K. Henshaw, a senior fellow at the Guttmacher Institute, the research division of Planned Parenthood, and the best source of these statistics, is quoted in a June 5 Washington Post article as saying, "The information just isn't available…This is an area that we just don't know much about.”

The Guttmacher Institute does report in its official statistics, however, that some 13,310 abortions each year are at 21 weeks or more of pregnancy (that is, 1.1% of the 1.21 million abortions per year). Of the 40 states that reported in 2005 to the Centers for Disease Control, 32 states reported abortions of babies 21 weeks or older.

This means that every day, 37 babies the size of a large banana are dismembered and decapitated – and these include healthy babies of healthy mothers…and it’s happening legally.

These are babies that the mother can already feel moving. According to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, these babies are storing fat on their bodies, their heartbeat can be heard with a stethoscope, they can hear, they have eyebrows, eyelashes, fingernails and toenails. Incidentally, MedlinePlus calls them “babies.” (See

Many people wonder how they can get some traction in the seemingly intractable abortion debate. How can they get people to listen, or make pro-choice people believe that pro-life people have good reason to be against abortion?

My suggestion: start by discussing the facts I just mentioned.

It’s morally legitimate to focus on late-term abortion; that doesn’t deny that all abortion is wrong; it’s simply a way to get the ball rolling, a pedagogical method of going from the most obvious to the less obvious, of starting with what people know and leading to what they don’t know.

When people are astonished by these facts, as they will be, they are forced to re-evaluate just how much priority “privacy” and “choice” have over life. If they are “pro-choice,” they are forced to figure out when in pregnancy the line is drawn – and why.

And now you’re talking.

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 • Email: