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Debate: 20-week abortion limit

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Background and context

A number of states have recently passed 20-week abortion limits, which forbid women from having abortions after 20-weeks of a pregnancy. These limits are based on the theory that, after 20-weeks, fetuses can feel pain. In America, only 1.5 percent of the 1.21 million abortions each year, or about 18,000, occur later than 20 weeks after conception, and many of these involve medical emergencies, said Ms. Nash of the Guttmacher Institute.

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  • 20-week limit consistent with public opinion on viability. Dr Tim Black, chief executive of Marie Stopes International, said to the Times Online: "Public opinion is in favour of abortion but falls off quite quickly when we get to 20 weeks because there is a perception that the foetus is potentially viable. We do feel that in light of medical developments the upper limit should come down."[1]

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  • 20-week abortion limit risky for late-term emergencies. "Several States Forbid Abortion After 20 Weeks." New York Times. June 26th, 2011: "Last fall, Danielle and Robb Deaver of Grand Island, Neb., found that their state’s new law intruded in a wrenching personal decision. Ms. Deaver, 35, a registered nurse, was pregnant with a daughter in a wanted pregnancy, she said. She and her husband were devastated when her water broke at 22 weeks and her amniotic fluid did not rebuild. Her doctors said that the lung and limb development of the fetus had stopped, that it had a remote chance of being born alive or able to breathe, and that she faced a chance of serious infection. In what might have been a routine if painful choice in the past, Ms. Deaver and her husband decided to seek induced labor rather than wait for the fetus to die or emerge. But inducing labor, if it is not to save the life of the fetus, is legally defined as abortion, and doctors and hospital lawyers concluded that the procedure would be illegal under Nebraska’s new law. After 10 days of frustration and anguish, Ms. Deaver went into labor naturally; the baby died within 15 minutes and Ms. Deaver had to be treated with intravenous antibiotics for an infection that developed. Ms. Deaver said she got angry only after the grief had settled. “This should have been a private decision, made between me, my husband and my doctor,” she said in a telephone interview."

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