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

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 heartbeats 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.

Fr. Frank Pavone


Father Frank A. Pavone is an American Roman Catholic priest and pro-life activist. He is the National Director of Priests for Life and serves as the Chairman and Pastoral Director of Rachel’s Vineyard.

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  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    Third trimester abortions are absolutely sickening. I just came from the ultrasound for 35 weeks where we got to see my little boy before he is born. He is fully viable at this stage. If we were Americans, we could kill him.

  • Terri Kimmel

    “…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.”

    Yes! This is what I do with Feminists for Life, talking about the difficulties so many women face when they become pregnant. The problem I have encountered is that pro-lifers don’t want to wander into anything that may be perceived as a grey area. (You mean women who consider abortion may not be evil? Pro-choicers may have kind intentions? Balderdash! They are not victims! They don’t deserve compassion!) Many pro-lifers are very insecure people who would rather stand at a distance and point a condemning finger at anyone pro-choice than to patiently and humbly seek out misunderstandings so they can be clarified.

    People who are pro-choice have often been blinded by the “right to choose” and “privacy” arguments. Many pro-choice individuals are truly caring people who believe that women don’t deserve to be “forced” to bear the “burden” of a child. There is truth in these beliefs, but it is a complex truth. Abortion treats a complicated situation with barbaric simplicity. It is a trapdoor that drops everybody involved straight into a deep pit of moral boiling tar and incomprehensible suffering.

    Thank God for mercy and forgiveness. There is hope.

  • jcdives

    Terri in your article you write…

    “…Many pro-choice individuals are truly caring people who believe that women don’t deserve to be “forced” to bear the “burden” of a child.”

    Why can’t the child be put up for adoption? Instead of the “barbaric simplicity” of killing the child?

  • Jim McFillin


    In your statement, you said, “The problem I have encountered is that pro-lifers don’t want to wander into anything that may be perceived as a grey area.”

    Let’s say we are in a theater with 4000 people. And let’s say, I start killing a person every 25 seconds. Would you tell me to stop? Would you stop me yourself? Would you just ignore it, because these people are “not wanted.” (A woman at Planned Parenthood actually yelled, “This baby is not wanted.”)

    Ask yourself the real question.

    Do I believe this preborn baby is an actual person with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If you do, you see abortion for what it is–evil, death, black as opposed to white. If not, grey is an option.

    Jim McFillin
    Great Mills, MD

  • dkpalaska

    As always, an excellent and informative article by Fr. Pavone. We are so blessed with his truth-filled leadership!

    For those responding to Ms. Kimmel, I think there might be some misunderstanding:

    I doubt that anyone could consider that I vacillate on pro-life issues. I believe abortion is gravely immoral in all circumstances. I vote, and vote every time, consistently pro-life before any other issue. And I see exactly where Ms. Kimmel is coming from.

    She did not say that she herself believes there is a grey area. She did not say that there were not other and better options than opting out of the “burden” of bearing a child by having an abortion. She reiterated an important point in Fr. Pavone’s article that all too many ardent pro-lifers, in their zeal, often overlook: To change people’s hearts and minds, you must talk WITH THEM, not AT THEM.

    And to effectively talk with someone you disagree with and hope to change the mind of, you absolutely must find that common ground. You must, casting off disgust or anger, have to seek to understand their concerns. Trying to walk in someone else’s shoes does not mean that you give any indication that you endorse their point of view. It does not mean that you run the risk of suddenly “switching sides”. It is not a sin.

    If you seek role models, consider God Himself, who came to us humbled as a slave. He did not mince words about what sin and Hell are, but came for the sinner nonetheless, walking in our shoes.

    Not everyone is called to the ministry of reaching out to pro-choice individuals, of course. But please do not minimize the importance of supporting those who do so, risking ridicule and rejection on an even more personal level than I do when I’m standing in front of the abortion clinic with my rosary and a sign.

    Blessings and strength to all in the continuing fight for life!

    In all things, love: 1 Cor 13

  • Les

    Bravo Denise, I think you exactly correct. I think Ms. Kimmel was expressing the view that while confrontation has its place, real change comes through compassion, reasoned discussion and gradual conversion. We didn’t get in this mess overnight and it will unhappily take time to turn it around, but truth and reason is on the pro-life side.

  • Jim McFillin

    Les/ DKPalaska,

    Confrontation is not the issue at all. It’s Personhood for the preborn baby.

    I think real change will come when pro-life people actually (in their gut) believe a real live person is being killed, and sense the urgency to do something about it. What were your answers to the guy killing a person every 25 seconds. What would you do? You would stop them, of course. But there are many folks who say they are pro-life, and don’t vote for pro-life candidates.

    So, I certainly agree that we must be compassionate in our discussions, but it’s 35 years and counting. A real person is being killed every 25 seconds.

    How do we emphasize the personhood of the preborn baby?

    Jim McFillin
    Great Mills, MD

  • dkpalaska

    Hello, Jim,

    My issue with your theatre example is that it is not exactly equivalent to the abortion situation. Unlike in the theatre, the person being killed is 1.) not obvious to the entire community as actually being a person (ridiculous, but accurate); 2.) the death is legally sanctioned; 3.) there is not one, but multiple murderers. Yes, I would stop the murders at all costs in your hypothetical example, but if you equate it with worldwide abortion today, I would also face an uprising on the part of the majority of the theatre-goers, be silenced and rendered ineffective, others who feel as I do would be demonized and those who are “on the fence” would be even less likely to listen to reason and scientific evidence. And then the killing would go on, even more unimpeded.

    The theatre deaths only stop permanently when we incite the majority of the theatre-goers to all rise up against the killers.

    In answer to your final question, for me, the personhood of the preborn baby is driven home when you start with the most obvious discrepancies in pro-choice (or cafeteria Catholic) “reasoning”. In Fr. Pavone’s words:

    “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.”

    However, there is room and need for all in the Church and her battles: martyrs and discoursers. Christ set the example for both, and called us each according to our gifts to fight for life.

    I feel like we are standing under the same tree, but somehow not holding hands around the trunk, if you will…

    In Christ’s love,

  • Tarheel

    Wonderful article. Father Pavone’s articles, speeches on his website and EWTN are always informative and make you feel good about being pro-life.

    It has always stricken me as odd that we live in a country where a young woman can go into an abortion clinic, pay a fee and have her child killed. But this same young woman if she went out and paid someone to kill her boyfriend or husband she would be arrested for contracting someone to commit a crime. So is it any different when she paid the fee to the abortion doctor to kill the child she is carrying?

  • DonnaMaria

    What’s really crazy is that an under-18 girl can have an abortion, but she can’t have her teeth cleaned, or even use a tanning bed in some cases without parental consent. We need to reach people where they are. From a medical standpoint, proper procedure is not being carried out: informed consent, and when the patient is under 18, informed consent of a legal guardian as well. The point being made, I think, is that we have to start with the things that are obvious to 99% of the people out there, make those changes, and keep on going. Things aren’t going to change overnight, but outlawing late-term abortion, requiring proper informed consent (with all the possible adverse affects of abortion gone over thoroughly) would be a great start. It would certainly make people think. Most people don’t believe those things are happening, or procedure is being breached.

  • Terri Kimmel

    I’ve wrangled this misunderstanding before. (Thank you for your eloquent clarifications, Denise.) One can reach out with compassion without compromising the principle of the personhood of the unborn child. I think it is somehow difficult for some people to wrap their minds around that concept. The last time I approached this subject in my local pro-life community, people were yelling at me (via email, of course) that abortion is always wrong, etc. Naturally. I know this. It is a given. I think every abortion is a grave evil, but loud condemnation by itself is not a comprehesive cure to the problem. It’s going to take more than that. We have to be willing to eat with prostitues and tax collectors.

    I too stand at the abortion mill regularly with a sign and a rosary. I stand there as witness to the holocaust, recognizing that I actually do very little in hopes of saving the children scheduled to be slaughtered that day. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Too much water has gone under the bridge by the time a mother reaches the mill. In almost all cases, she’s too resolved to be swayed at that point.

    I don’t think the theater analogy is very useful within the context of this discussion. I will never physically jump the abortionist as he arrives at the mill. I don’t think it’s an appropriate approach. I wouldn’t hesitate in the theater, though.

  • Terri Kimmel


    I recently wrote a column published on this site called “I Was a Pregnant College Student”. You can find it by using the site’s search engine. Reading that column might give you some idea of the complexity involved in answering your question.

    God bless.

  • Carhart does abortions in NE. I found the NE Abortion Report for 2008, 2,702 abortions-Length of Gestation* (in weeks) was not reported, so we dont know how old those 2,702 preborn babies were when they were killed. According to what I found Caharts abortion center is in Sarpy County where 1,949 were done in 2008. link to 2008 Nebraska Report on Abortions in 2008:
    To find other years I did a search on Statistical Report of Abortions
    SO how can the government or the Guttermacher Institute, say exactly or even close to how many later term abortions are being done if the gestional ages arent being reported? For all we know just in NE 2008, those 2702 abortions could have been late term abortions.