Updated Dec 15, 2023 - Health
Axios Explains: Abortion

How late in pregnancy each state allows abortions

How late into pregnancy abortion is allowed
Data: Guttmacher Institute, KFF and Axios research; Map: Axios Visuals

The Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade gave states the power to individually regulate abortion — or even ban it completely — before viability, known as the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

The big picture: The legality of abortion later in pregnancy has changed dramatically post-Roe.

  • Under Roe, states could regulate abortion after viability, which is generally considered to be between 24 to 28 weeks after a patient’s last menstrual period.
  • Despite Roe, some states implemented bans before the 24-week mark largely based on the "unfounded assertion" that a fetus can feel pain at 22 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Where things stand today

  • States now have a variety of gestational limits on the procedure.
  • Fertilization: 14 states have laws in effect banning nearly all abortions starting at fertilization.
  • Six weeks: South Carolina and Georgia 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.
  • 12 weeks: Nebraska and North Carolina are the two states that currently ban abortion at the 12-week mark.
  • 15 weeks: Arizona and Florida ban abortion at 15 weeks.
  • 18 weeks: Utah is the only state that currently bans abortion at 18 weeks of pregnancy.
  • 22 weeks: Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Wisconsin 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: Four states ban abortions at 24 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Viability: 14 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. It's also the lone southern state that hasn't banned or restricted abortion since the end of Roe.

No limit: Six states and Washington, D.C., do not impose any term restrictions. That has not changed since the overturning of Roe.

Of note: Most 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 KFF.
  • Nine states that restricted abortion offer exceptions for fetal anomalies, according to a KFF tracker of abortion limits and exceptions.

Laws vs. access

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

  • Nationwide, only 54% of Americans said it would be "very" or "somewhat" easy to obtain an abortion, down from 64% in 2019, per a Pew Research Center survey in April.
  • In 2017, Guttmacher reported that there are no abortion clinics in around 89% of counties across the U.S.
  • In addition, several states have requirements for patients and providers that Planned Parenthood calls “unreasonable” and “medically unnecessary.”
  • Providers who perform abortions near a state's gestational 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.

What to watch

Ahead of the 2024 election, abortion has divided GOP presidential candidates over whether the federal government should restrict access nationally.

  • A six-week abortion ban in Florida signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis is held up until the state's Supreme Court rules on the 15-week one.
  • After Ohio voted to protect abortion rights in November, advocates are to trying to get similar measures on the ballot in 2024 in key states like Arizona, Nevada and Florida, as well as Republican-dominated Nebraska and South Dakota.
  • The Supreme Court has agreed to review a dispute over the availability of the abortion pill mifepristone, and a decision is likely by the end of June.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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