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Home Q & A Abortion

About Abortion

On this page you will find information on some key abortion statistics and the various methods of abortion. See also the related Questions and Answers page on the unborn child.

Statistics given here are up to date as of August 2011.

How Did Abortion Become Legal in the United States?

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, handed down two rulings legalizing abortion in America. Prior to these rulings abortion was prohibited in most of the 50 states. In the states where abortion was permitted, such as New York and California, various restrictions had been placed on the reasons for abortion. These restrictions were removed by the 1973 rulings.

The Court based its decisions on the "right to privacy," which it claimed was guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but which it could not specifically find anywhere. The Court concluded that it was implied in either the Fourteenth Amendment or the "penumbra" of the Bill of Rights.

Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton

The principal decision, Roe v. Wade, repealed all state laws prohibiting abortion. The companion case, Doe v. Bolton, extended the right to abortion to the entire nine months of pregnancy. The Court divided the term of pregnancy into trimesters (not a medical term prior to that time), and ruled that there could be no restrictions on abortions performed during the first trimester, or first three months of pregnancy.

During the second trimester (months 4-6), the court allowed states to pass certain regulations regarding abortion, but only to insure a woman's safety. There could be no restrictions on a woman's right to choose abortion.

During the third trimester (the last 3 months of pregnancy), the court conceded that a state could impose restrictions on abortion if the state found it in its interest to protect the child; however, the woman could still have access to an abortion for health reasons. Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is "any condition that might impact her physical, emotional, psychological or financial well being". The court adopted this definition, effectively extending abortion on demand for the full nine months of pregnancy.

A Wrong Decision

Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Byron White wrote dissenting opinions in these cases, arguing that the Court had overextended its reach and exercised what Justice White called "raw judicial power." In 1983, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that Roe v. Wade was "on a collision course with itself." Many legal scholars from across the political spectrum have likewise criticized the Roe and Doe decisions, including notable abortion supporters Lawrence Tribe, Michael Kinsey and Alan Dershowitz.

As advances in medical technology continue to make the personhood of the fetus increasingly obvious, a woman's "right to privacy" is being more forcibly challenged by the unborn child's right to life.

Roe and Doe Are Now Pro-Lifers

Neither of the two women whose cases were originally brought to the Supreme Court had abortions. Norma McCorvey (Roe) had claimed she was gang raped in order to gain sympathy for her attempt to have an abortion in Texas. Her lawyer, Sarah Weddington, knew the rape story was a lie when she argued the case before the Supreme Court, but she chose to keep that information from the court and the public. The truth did not surface until 1988, when Norma McCorvey herself confessed to the lie. In 1995, McCorvey joined the pro-life movement.

Sandra Cano (Doe) had appealed to a lawyer for help in reclaiming her children, who had been taken from her at a time that she was unable to provide for them. Attorney Margie Pitts Hames siezed the opportunity to use the unwitting Cano, who was pregnant at the time, in the effort to legalize abortion in Georgia, even though Cano had never wanted an abortion.

The lawyers did not come through on their promise to help Cano, and when the Supreme Court decision came down, both the lawyers and Cano's family tried to force her to have a late term abortion. She had to leave the state to avoid the abortion they scheduled for her. Cano tried to publicize her opposition to abortion shortly after the 1973 decision, but the media paid no attention to her.

Both McCorvey and Cano testified to their opposition to abortion at a Pro-Life Action League conference in Chicago on April 20, 1996.

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What is the total number of legal abortions since 1973?

Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, there have been approximately 50 million abortions performed in the United States.

Source: Guttmacher Institute, 2011, August. Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States. [PDF]

How many abortions are performed in the United States each year?

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were 1.21 million abortions performed in the United States in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available. This amounts to 3,322 abortions per day.

Source: Jones, Rachel K. and Kathryn Kooistra. "Abortion Incidence and Access to Services in the United States, 2008." Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43, no. 1 (2011, March): 41-50 [PDF]

How many abortions are performed at each stage of pregnancy?

The following table lists both the percentage of abortions performed during various stages of pregnancy, along with the total yearly abortions at each stage, based on a total of 1.2 million abortions per year (see above).

Gestational Age Percentage Yearly Total
Less than 9 weeks 61.8% 749,232
9-10 weeks 17.1% 207,312
11-12 weeks 9.1% 110,324
13-15 weeks 6.6% 80,015
16-20 weeks 3.8% 46,069
21+ weeks 1.5% 18,185

Source: Guttmacher Institute, 2011, August. Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States. [PDF]

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What are the methods of abortion and at what stages of pregnancy are they used?

The following abortion methods are used regularly in the United States. Saline abortions are no longer performed.

Diagrams of the various abortion methods and photographs of aborted babies can be seen on this page at the Priests for Life website.

How is a Suction Aspiration abortion performed?

Suction aspiration, the most common abortion method, is typically performed when the fetus is 6-12 weeks, but can be used up to 16 weeks. The cervix is dilated, and a hollow plastic tube with a sharp tip is inserted into the cervix and then into the uterus. An aspirator attached to the tube tears the body of the fetus apart and suctions the pieces through the tube.

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How is a D & C abortion performed?

A suction/D & C abortion is performed when the fetus is 6-12 weeks. The cervix is opened using an osmotic dilator. Then a curette (a thin metal rod with a knife-sharp loop at the end) is inserted into the uterus. The curette is used to dismember the fetus.

After this, a cannula (a hollow plastic tube) attached to a suction aspirator is inserted to remove the fetus, placenta and uterine lining. These are captured by a stockinet attached to the end of the suction tube.

To avoid the risk of infection or hemorrhaging, the contents of the stockinet are examined to be sure all fetal parts have been removed.

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How is dilation and evacuation abortion (D & E) performed?

A D & E abortion is performed in the second trimester (12-24 weeks) and is usually a 2-3 day procedure. At this stage of pregnancy, the fetus' tendons, muscles, and bones are more developed. The cervix has closed more tightly and must be dilated enough to remove the larger fetus.

To aid in cervical dilation, laminaria (dried seaweed sticks) are inserted into the cervix. The dilation process can take 1-2 days depending on the size of the fetus.

Once the cervix is sufficiently dilated, the laminaria are removed. Forceps are inserted into the uterus to forcibly dismember the fetus. The skull is then crushed and removed. A suction aspiration is then introduced to remove any remaining fetal parts, the placenta and uterine lining.

How is a partial birth abortion (D & X) performed?

The D & X abortion is used in late second and third trimesters (24-36 weeks). As with the D & E, the cervix must be dilated using laminaria.

Forceps are then introduced into the uterus to grasp the baby's legs. The baby is delivered breech while the head remains inside the birth canal. Using blunt-tipped surgical scissors, the base of the skull is pierced and a suction catheter is inserted to extract the brain. This causes the skull to collapse and the dead baby is then fully delivered.

Sometimes, while the child is partially delivered and still alive, the organs are removed and sold for fetal tissue experimentation (an illegal practice).

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How is a live birth abortion (prostaglandin) performed?

A Prostaglandin or Live Birth Abortion is done in the second or third trimester. Prostaglandins are naturally occurring chemical compounds which assist in the birthing process. For the abortion procedure, artificial prostaglandins are injected into the amniotic sac which induces violent labor and leads to the birth of a child usually too young to survive.

Often salt or another toxin is first injected to ensure that the baby will be delivered dead, since some babies have survived the trauma of a prostaglandin abortion and been born alive.

How is a chemical abortion (RU-486) performed?

RU-486 is a chemical (rather than a surgical) abortion, performed up to 49 days gestation. RU-486 requires at least three visits to the doctor's office or clinic.

At the first visit, the woman is given a physical exam and is administered mifepristone. RU-486 blocks the action of progesterone, the natural hormone vital to maintaining the lining of the uterus. The embryo starves as the nutrient lining disintegrates.

At a second visit, 36-48 hours later, the woman is giving a dose of artificial prostaglandins, usually misoprostol, which initiate uterine contractions and usually cause the embryo to be expelled from the uterus. Most women abort during the four hour waiting period, but about 30% abort as many as five days later—at home, work, etc.

A third visit about 2 weeks later determines whether the abortion has occurred or if a surgical abortion is necessary to complete the procedure.

How many abortion clinics are there in the country?

According to Operation Rescue, which tracks the abortion business, there are 682 abortion clinics in the United States compared to over 4,000 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs).

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Who gets abortions? How Does abortion break down demographically?

Statistics are available on the percentage of abortions sought by women in various demographical categories, including age, marital status, race, religion, and prior pregnancies.

Age of Mother Percentage
Less than 15 0.4%
15-19 17%
20-24 32.6%
25-29 24.1%
30-34 14.2%
35-39 8.9%
40+ 3.2%
Marital Status
Married 17%
Separate/Divorced/Widowed 15.6%
Never Married 72%
Race of Mother
White 36%
Black 30%
Hispanic 25%
Other Races 9%
Religion of Mother
Protestant 37%
Catholic 28%
Other 35%
Prior Pregnancies
Previous Abortion and Birth 36%
None 27%
Previous Birth 25%
Previous Abortion 12%

Source: Guttmacher Institute, 2011, August. Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States. [PDF]

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What are the risks of abortion?

Contrary to the claims of many abortion advocates, there are many serious physical and psychological risks to abortion.

Among the physical risks are infection, perforation of the uterus, hemorrhage, cervical incompetence, cancer, and even death. More information on the physical risks of abortion is available from the Elliot Institute.

Among the psychological risks are regret, nervous disorders, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, child neglect or abuse, divorce or chronic relationship problems, and repeat abortion. More information on the psychological risks of abortion is available from the Elliot Institute.

Isn't abortion safer than childbirth?

Planned Parenthood's website claims that there are 8.9 deaths per one million abortions performed after 20 weeks gestation, whereas maternal mortality is 12.1 per 100,000 births—showing "a significant difference in terminating a pregnancy by abortion after 20 weeks' gestation and carrying it to term." To determine if abortion really is safer, there are a number of issues we must consider.

First, what is "maternal mortality" and how is it determined? According to a CDC report [PDF], "maternal deaths" include "the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy . . . from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management." This definition includes deaths from hemorrhages, embolisms (blood clots), tubal (ectopic) pregnancies, infections, complications from high blood pressure or diabetes, etc. Another study clarifies that a death is "considered pregnancy related if [it] had a temporal or causal relationship to pregnancy"—so a woman who dies soon after her pregnancy or because of her pregnancy is recorded as a "maternal death."

Most importantly, though, this definition of "maternal mortality" includes deaths from induced and spontaneous abortion. So you cannot compare "maternal mortality" as a whole to deaths from abortion.

Secondly, accurate numbers of abortion mortality are nearly impossible to generate. One study reports maternal mortality from abortion as 4.8% of all maternal deaths, while another reported it as 8.2%. Anecdotal evidence also reveals substantial underreporting. Dr. John Wilke reports that a pro-life friend did not report a girl's cause of death as abortion because "that family has suffered enough and I'm not going to add to their woes by revealing that she had an abortion."

Next, compare how statistics are collected. To find maternal mortality rates, state health departments link "the death certificates of women of reproductive age to birth and fetal death certificates." This makes it very easy to tell whether a woman has recently delivered a baby. There is no similar record of women who have had abortions, though. These records are kept strictly confidential by abortion providers (except when they are thrown in the trash!). This means unless a woman's family reports that she had an abortion or if a particularly observant coroner notices that she had an abortion, pregnancy will not be reported, meaning her death will not be included in maternal mortality statistics.

Other problems with comparisons of maternal mortality and abortion-related mortality are explained by Dr. Jack C. Wilke in his article "Abortion vs. Childbirth." Some of these factors include the underreporting of abortions generally, which logically suggests the underreporting of injuries; bias of Centers for Disease Control recorders; and the use of studies on hospital abortions, which are generally safer, to prove safety rather than studies of freestanding abortion facilities, which account for 90% of abortions.

Also, previous abortions put women at risk for a number of physical complications, any number of which may jeopardize a future pregnancy. For example, deaths from ectopic pregnancies make up 4.9% of all maternal deaths; since abortion increases a woman's risk of subsequent ectopic pregnancies , many of these deaths can be attributed to a prior abortion.

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Is there really a link between abortion and breast cancer?

Twenty-eight out of thirty-seven worldwide studies have independently linked induced abortion with breast cancer. Most of the studies have been conducted by abortion supporters. The first study was published in an English publication in 1957 and focused on Japanese women. It showed a 2.6 relative risk or 160% increased risk of breast cancer among women who'd had an induced abortion [1].

These studies suggest that an induced abortion cause biological changes to occur in a woman's breasts which make her more susceptible to breast cancer. This is one of two ways in which abortion causes breast cancer. Delayed first full term pregnancy is a second way in which abortion causes this disease.

Abortion is an "elective surgical procedure and a woman's exposure to the hormones of early pregnancy—if it is interrupted—is so great, that just one interrupted pregnancy is enough to make a significant difference in her risk" [2].

More information on the link between abortion and breast cancer is available from the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.


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