Updated May 26, 2022 - Health
Axios Explains: Abortion

How late in pregnancy each state allows abortions

Data: Guttmacher Institute, Axios research; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Abortion at later stages in pregnancy is still legal in most states across the U.S., but that's expected to change if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

The big picture: If Roe is struck down, states would be allowed to individually regulate abortion — or even ban it completely — before viability, known as the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

  • Under Roe, states have the authority to regulate abortion after viability, which is generally considered to be between 24 to 28 weeks after a patient’s last menstrual period.
Where things stand today

Despite Roe, some states have successfully implemented bans before the 24-week mark largely based on the "unfounded assertion" that a fetus can feel pain at 22 weeks after the patient's last menstrual period (LMP), according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

  • Fertilization: Oklahoma is the only state with a law in effect banning nearly all abortions starting at fertilization.
  • Six weeks LMP: Texas and Oklahoma are the only states that have laws in effect banning abortions when cardiac activity has been detected in an embryo, which is at around six weeks.
  • 20 weeks: Mississippi is the only state that currently bans abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court is currently considering the state's 15-week ban, which has been blocked by lower courts since 2018. That case could determine the future of Roe.
  • 22 weeks: Fifteen states ban abortions at 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Over half of states have restrictions in place only at or after viability, or have no limit at all.

  • 24 weeks: Five states ban abortions at 24 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Viability: Twenty states ban abortions after the fetus is considered viable. Some laws that don't specify a limit say it's up to the abortion provider's "judgment" to determine whether a fetus is viable.
  • Third trimester: Virginia is the only state that prohibits abortions in the pregnancy's third trimester, which starts at around 25 weeks, per Guttmacher.
  • No limit: Six states and Washington, D.C., do not impose any term restrictions.

Of note: Many states with restrictions have exceptions, including to preserve a pregnant person's life or health, though they are often narrowly defined.

When patients typically get abortions

About 93% of reported abortions in 2019 were performed at or before 13 weeks of pregnancy, 6% were conducted between 14 and 20 weeks and 1% were performed at or after 21 weeks, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • People who tend to have abortions later in a pregnancy do so because of "medical concerns such as fetal anomalies or maternal life endangerment, as well as barriers to care that cause delays in obtaining an abortion," per the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Laws vs. access

Abortion at any stage is still difficult to access for many people.

  • In 2017, Guttmacher reported that there are no abortion clinics in around 89% of counties across the U.S. There are even fewer clinics that provide abortions past the 24th week of pregnancy.
  • Plus, several states have requirements for patients and providers that Planned Parenthood calls “unreasonable” and “medically unnecessary.”
  • Providers who perform abortions near a state's time limit face additional hurdles. They must be "really good at ultrasound" to determine the exact gestational age of the pregnancy to avoid violating the law, Hanna Peterson, an abortion provider in Kentucky, told Axios.
States to watch

Arizona, Florida and Louisiana have enacted laws that ban abortions at 15 weeks that have yet to take effect. Mississippi and Kentucky attempted to enact similar laws, but were temporarily blocked by the courts.

  • Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Idaho's six-week bans have been temporarily blocked by federal judges. Missouri's eight-week ban has also been blocked.
  • 13 states have "trigger" laws in place that would prohibit abortion shortly after Roe is overturned.
  • Meanwhile, 16 states have codified abortion protections into their laws.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details on Oklahoma's bans.

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