Prevention and termination of pregnancy has been practiced throughout recorded human history. Under English common law, the cornerstone of American jurisprudence, abortions performed prior to “quickening” (the first perceptible fetal movement, which usually occurs after the fourth month of pregnancy) were not criminal offenses. Abortion was made illegal under most circumstances in most US states in the mid-1800s, but by 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade, legal abortions were available in 17 states.

We need to understand the types of abortions, their frequency, and who has them. The Guttmacher Institute is a good source of information on this, but tracking abortions is difficult because different states have different reporting requirements.  

  • In 2020, there were 930,160 abortions in the United States, an 8% increase from 862,320 abortions in 2017.
  • Fifty-nine percent of abortions in 2014 were obtained by patients who had had at least one birth.
  • Some 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor (having an income below the federal poverty level of $15,730 for a family of two in 2014) or low-income (having an income of 100–199% of the federal poverty level). What does this tell you?

The Centers for Desease Control and Prevention produces an extensive statistical report on abortion. “Each year, CDC requests abortion data from the central health agencies for 50 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City. For 2019, 49 reporting areas voluntarily provided aggregate abortion data to CDC.” This report shows that very few abortions are performed after 13 weeks’ gestation (in Florida, 3.7%). However, other reporting has pointed out that these late term abortions constitute special, difficult cases.

The CDC also reports on abortion mortality–deaths attributable to legal abortion. Since 1970 there has been fewer than one death per 100,000 abortions.

The Pew Research Center‘s report uses the CDC data, but is much more readable.

WebMD describes abortion procedures in layman’s terms.

More than half of all abortions are now being accomplished through medication. These pills can be obtained from various sources, including international sources, and are as safe as surgical abortion. States with severe abortion restrictions are targeting medication abortion, but this will be more difficult to police.

Why do people choose to have abortions? There are a number of websites that feature stories told by real women about their abortion choices, and more come out every day in the news. In some cases, they don’t feel ready to have a child, or their life plans would be canceled by a pregnancy. In some cases, they already have children and cannot afford more. There are severely deformed and unviable fetuses. The stories are quite varied. Many people believe that abortion seekers are irresponsible and should not have allowed themselves to get pregnant. In addition to learning more about birth control and its limitations, reading these stories will provide another perspective. 

The above (and sites referenced in the post The Power of Story: Abortion) feature stories compiled largely by younger women. But I suspect, given the statistics on the number of women who have had abortions, that many of our members may have had this experience. Perhaps they will take the opportunity to share.

Author: Pat DeWitt

I am a retired institutional researcher, a musician and musicologist, and support AAUW as well as several environmental causes.

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