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D&X Late-Term Abortion


Updated April 08, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.


The late-term abortion procedure, D&X (intact dilation and extraction), is perhaps the most controversial of all the abortion procedures. A D&X is performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy. This late-term abortion procedure takes about 2 to 3 days and results in the extraction of an intact fetus. During an intact D&X produre, the fetus is partially pulled out by its feet and then the largest part of the fetus (the head) is reduced in diameter to allow passage through the birth canal.

An intact D&X late-term abortion is performed for the safety of the pregnant woman. Many states have banned late-term abortions, like D&X, if the procedure is performed after the point of fetal viability (the point in fetal development at which the fetus may survive outside the womb). Some states will allow a late-term abortion after the point of viability if the woman's life is at serious risk or if a significant fetal defect is present. The Supreme Court has ruled that viability is a medical determination, which varies with each pregnancy, and that it is the responsibility of the attending doctor to make that determination. In the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, abortions were legalized but the ruling allowed states to ban abortions of post-viable fetuses unless an abortion was necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act into law -- the first federal ban on abortion, which makes certain circumstances of the intact dilation and extraction method illegal in the United States. This ban allows for the use of intact D&X only if it is necessary to save a mother's life. Although this ban is officially named the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, it is important to point out that this late-term abortion procedure is more accurately acknowledged in the medical community as Intact D&X. "Partial birth abortion" is a political term, not a medical one. In 2006, the law's constitutionality was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart

Also Known As:

D&X, Intact Dilation and Extraction, Intact D&X, Intrauterine Cranial Decompression,Partial Birth Abortion, Late Term Abortion


Paul, M. (1999). A clinician's guide to medical and surgical abortion. New York: Churchill Livingstone.

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