Abortion is a contentious issue and one that gets a lot of
attention by politicians and in the media. These debates on the ethics of
abortion often take place on the abstract, theoretical level and fail to
account for the empirical information on who seeks out abortions and why (all
of the information presented here comes from the Guttmacher Institute).
Half of all pregnancies in the United States are an intended. 40% of
these unintended pregnancies end in abortion and 22% of intended pregnancies
also end in abortion. Over half of all women had been using some form of
contraception during the month in which they became pregnant. However, many of
these women (or their partners) were incorrectly or inconsistently using
contraception. Just under half of women
who had an unintentional pregnancy were not using contraception for one of the
following reasons: 33% perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy,
32% had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had unexpected sex, and 1%
had been forced to have sex.
Each year, 2% of women aged 15–44 have an abortion. Half of
these women have had at least one previous abortion., From 1973 through 2008,
nearly 50 million legal abortions occurred. In 2008, 1.21 million abortions
performed. By age 20, 1 in 10 women have had an abortion, by age 30 it is 1 in
4 women, and by age 45 it is 3 in 10 women. Women in their 20s account for more
than half of all abortions and 18% of U.S. women obtaining abortions are
teenagers. Women who have never married and are not cohabiting account for 45%
of all abortions. This means that over half of all women who seek abortions are
in a relationship. About 61% of abortions are obtained by women who have at
least one child. Abortion is more common
in women of lower socioeconomic status: 42% of women obtaining abortions have
incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level
and 27% of women obtaining abortions have incomes between 100–199% of
the federal poverty level.
Women frequently have more than one reason why they decide
to have an abortion: 75% cite concern for or responsibility to other
individuals; 75% say they cannot afford a child; 75% are concerned that having
a baby would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for
dependents; and 50% do not want to be a single parent or are having problems
with their husband or partner.
While abortion is typically presented in the media as a
dichotomous debate – one is either pro-choice or pro-life – many people fall somewhere on the spectrum
between these two absolute and opposing positions. Furthermore, people share
some common beliefs and goals, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum.
For instance, almost no one, not even the most ardent pro-choice advocates,
want to see the rates of abortion skyrocket. Equipped with the information I
have presented here, we can recognize that one of the best ways to reduce the
prevalence of abortion is to provide better contraceptive education and better
access to contraception (which is already begun under Obamacare). The
information I presented here is also helpful for starting to dispel the myths
surrounding who has abortions. While it is true that poor women are more likely
to have abortions (partially because they do not have good access to
contraception), many people may be surprised to discover that over half of
women who have abortions are in a relationship and almost two thirds of these
women already have at least one child.
Beyond the statistics, it is important to listen to the stories of women
who choose to have abortions in order to gain a better understanding of who
they are and the decisions they make.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.