April 21, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

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.

2 comments | Topics: Reproductive Medicine , Women's Reproductive Rights



John wrote on 05/16/14 12:17 PM

Sad that the article leaves out the sever health after-effects of abortion, including the increased risk of cancer, higher depression rates, suicide rates, drug & alcohol abuse, and significant regret numbers (not to mention that late term abortion actually involves the brutal killing of a viable child while adoption waiting lists are years long).

The author also fails to even mention increasing Abstinence training which some studies show has a greater effect than contraceptive training, or NFP (natural family planning) which under all studies has shown a divorce rate of under 6% (leading to un-heard of financial and family stabilities compared to society at large, which are two of the greater factors that influence abortion decisions) as well as miniscule abortion numbers.

"Half of all pregnancies in the United States are an INTENDED. 40% of these UNINTENDED..." is not clear writing? No source sited, almost like the research was pulled of the CCD or wiki this morning, and again the lack of even mentioning possibly better methods as well as the most damaging abortion statics make me feel like this article was something quickly "slapped together", like my post, and not something of PhD quality or anything a school would headline its 'BioEthics today' with this.

On the other side, the article does appear fair in the facts presented (once there sourcing is credibly established) and in its tone.

Lastly, I would add that to the last line.. "Beyond the statistics, it is important to listen to the stories the now adult children whom are survivors of abortion in order to gain a better understanding of who they are and the decisions, and the effects of those decisions, their mother has made. There are children and adults in society today that are survivors of abortion and listening to them helps us keep in mind that not only the mother but also the daughter is a women whom is drastically effected through the abortion choice. It is not just a "life style" choice or a medical procedure but something that again in many cases, brutally ends the life in of a viable wanted young woman whom (universally if survived) as an adult is grateful the abortion was a failure and that she is alive today contributing to society. For example see below: http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/dear-dr.-patel-you-aborted-my-twin-sister

Don wrote on 05/17/14 11:16 PM

There was a source cited - the Guttmacher Institute. Also, if you're going to criticize someone for not including sources, please be responsible enough to provide sources for your own statistics.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.