Many people claim that women have abortions because they do not use contraception. However, studies indicate that 54% of women who had an abortion had been using a con­traceptive method the month they became pregnant (R. K. Jones, Darroch, & Henshaw, 2002a). Some of these women were using methods incorrectly or inconsistently. In fact, only 8% of women who have abortions never have used any contraception.

Women who have abortions do so for a variety of reasons. The majority report that a baby would interfere with other responsibilities, such as educational or career goals. Other reasons include an inability to financially provide for a child; difficulties in the re­lationship with the father; not wanting people to know they are sexually active; pressure from their partners or families; fetal deformity; risks to mother’s health; having several children already; and rape or incest. From this research, the only thing that is clear is that there is no simple answer to the question of why a woman decides to have an abor­tion. The decision-making process is difficult and has no easy answers.

How do you feel about these reasons? Do any of these circumstances seem more justified than others? Do you feel that there are legitimate reasons for aborting a fetus?

Abortion Procedures

Abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States, and the majority of procedures are performed in specialized abortion clinics today (Henshaw & Finer, 2003). However, this has not always been the case. After Roe v. Wade in 1973, most abortions were performed in hospitals. The move away from hospitals and into clinics has reduced the cost of an abortion. Surgical abortion procedures involve risks, the most serious of which include uterine perforation, cervical laceration, se­vere hemorrhaging, infection, and anesthesia-related complications. These risks are greater when general anesthesia is used. In fact, the risk of death during a general anes­thesia abortion is two to four times greater than during one with local anesthesia (Tietze, 1983).

Figure 13.10

Current abortion statistics for the United States.

Reproduced with permission of The Alan Guttmacher Institute from Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health and The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) An Overview of Abortion in the U. S., New York: AGI, 2003, Microsoft® Powerpoint® presentation.




Abortions by gestational age


40-44 years, <15 years,

Why Do Women Have Abortions?


Native American,* Asian/Pacific

Why Do Women Have Abortions?

Abortions by ethnicity




Abortions can be performed as either first- or second-trimester procedures. First- trimester abortions are done before 14 weeks of gestation, and they are simpler and safer than those done after this time. Second-trimester abortions, or late abortions, are those done between 14 and 21 weeks.


first-trimester abortion

Termination of pregnancy within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.


second-trimester abortion

Termination of pregnancy between the 14th and 21st weeks of pregnancy.


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