Abortion Facts

Abortion Facts

For many people, abortion is more of an idea than a hard reality. Often the most stalwart abortion proponents know little about how many abortions are actually performed in the United States, or what the principal abortion methods are. Learning the facts about abortion can lead to a change of heart about the morality of abortion.

Many of the statistics in this chapter are taken from the Guttmacher Institute, which is closely affiliated with Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S.

Among the physical risks of abortion are infection, perforation of the uterus, hemorrhage, cervical incompetence, cancer, and even death. Among the psychological risks are depression, nervous disorders, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, child neglect or abuse, divorce or chronic relationship problems, and suicide.

Sources:

The Elliot Institute. “Research on the Psychological and Physical Effects of Abortion.” Accessed October 17, 2013. http://afterabortion.org/1999/more-research-on-post-abortion-issues.

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In a chemical abortion, also called a medical abortion, a woman is administered an abortion-inducing compound called mifepristone (also called RU-486 or Mifeprex). Mifepristone blocks the action of progesterone, the natural hormone vital to maintaining the lining of the uterus. As the nutrient lining disintegrates, the embryo starves. Subsequently, the woman takes a dose of artificial prostaglandins which initiate uterine contractions and cause the embryo to be expelled from the uterus. Abortions by mifepristone are usually done prior to 49 days gestation.

Sources:

Willke, John, MD and Barbara Willke. Abortion: Questions & Answers. Cincinnati: Hayes, 2003.

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In a prostaglandin abortion, a dose of prostaglandin hormones is injected into the uterine muscle, which induces violent labor resulting in the death of the fetus. Prostaglandin abortions, typically performed in the second and early third trimester, are rarely used today, due to the relatively high chance that the fetus will survive the abortion and be born alive.

Sources:

Clowes, Brian, PhD. The Facts of Life. Front Royal, VA: Human Life International, 2001.

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In a saline abortion, amniotic fluid is removed from the uterus and replaced with a saline solution, which the fetus swallows. The fetus is killed by salt poisoning, dehydration, brain hemorrhage and convulsions. Saline abortions, typically performed in the second and early third trimester, are rarely used today, due to the risk of particularly serious health complications to the woman.

Sources:

Clowes, Brian, PhD. The Facts of Life. Front Royal, VA: Human Life International, 2001.

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A D&X (dilation and extraction) or partial-birth abortion is typically performed in the late second or third trimester. As with a D&E abortion (see above), the cervix must first be dilated, usually with laminaria (dried seaweed sticks). Forceps are then inserted into the uterus to grasp the fetus’s legs. The fetus 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 contents of the skull. This causes the skull to collapse, and the dead fetus is then fully delivered.

Despite the fact that the United States Supreme Court upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2007, D&X abortions are still being performed. An abortionist can avoid violating the law by first injecting the fetus with a lethal intracardiac injection to ensure that the fetus will already be dead when it is partially delivered.

Sources:

Goldberg, Carey. “Shots assist in aborting fetuses.” Boston Globe, August 10, 2007. Accessed October 10, 2013. http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/08/10/shots_assist_in_aborting_fetuses.

Willke, John, MD and Barbara Willke. Abortion: Questions & Answers. Cincinnati: Hayes, 2003.

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A D&E (dilation and evacuation) abortion is typically performed in the first half of the second trimester (13-20 weeks), but can be used up to approximately 28 weeks. At this stage of pregnancy, the fetus’s tendons, muscles, and bones are more developed. In a D&E abortion, forceps are inserted into the uterus to forcibly dismember the fetus, and the pieces are removed one by one. Larger fetuses must also have their skulls crushed so the pieces can pass through the cervix.

Typically, the cervix must be dilated for a period of one to three days prior to a D&E abortion. This is most often done by inserting laminaria (dried seaweed sticks) into the cervix. Therefore, a D&E abortion usually requires two visits to the abortion facility.

Sources:

Clowes, Brian, PhD. The Facts of Life. Front Royal, VA: Human Life International, 2001.

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In an intracardiac abortion, a needle is guided into the fetus’s heart with the aid of ultrasound, and poison (often potassium chloride or digoxin) is injected, causing an immediate heart attack. Intracardiac injection is most commonly used for “pregnancy reduction” abortions following in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, if multiple embryos were implanted to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. In these cases, the procedure is typically performed between 10 and 12 weeks gestation.

Intracardiac injection is also used in late term abortions when there is likelihood of delivering a live baby, in order to avoid state laws that would require the baby to be resuscitated and given medical care.

Sources:

Clowes, Brian, PhD. The Facts of Life. Front Royal, VA: Human Life International, 2001.

Jain, John K. and Daniel R. Mishell, Jr. Misoprostol regimens for termination of second trimester pregnancy, Human Reproduction 16, no. 2 (February 2011).

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In a D&C (dilation and curettage) abortion, typically performed in the first trimester, a curette (a sharp looped knife) is inserted into the uterus to scrape its walls. The curette is then used to dismember the fetus and placenta.

Sources:

Willke, John, MD and Barbara Willke. Abortion: Questions & Answers. Cincinnati: Hayes, 2003.

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Suction aspiration, the most common abortion method, is typically performed at 6-12 weeks gestation, 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.

Sources:

Willke, John, MD and Barbara Willke. Abortion: Questions & Answers. Cincinnati: Hayes, 2003.

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Eight abortion methods are practiced in the U.S.:

Suction (Vacuum) Aspiration
Dilation and Curettage (D&C)
Intracardiac Injection Abortion
Dilation and Evacuation (D&E)
Dilation and Extraction (D&X or Partial-Birth Abortion)
Instillation (Saline) Abortion
Prostaglandin Abortion
Chemical (Medical) Abortion

Each of these methods is described in detail below.

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Women often report that they feel pressured to get an abortion by others in their lives—boyfriends, parents, teachers, friends, employers and others. One survey found that 64% of American women who sought abortions felt coerced into doing so.

Sources:

Rue, Vincent M. et al. “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women.” Medical Science Monitor 10, no. 10 (2004): 5-16. http://postabort.ru/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Rue-Abortion-Trauma-US-Russia.pdf.

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In 2012, a panel of physicians meeting in Ireland, a country with one of the world’s lowest rates of maternal mortality, concluded: “We affirm that direct abortion—the purposeful destruction of the unborn child—is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.” They further stated: “The prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”

Sources:

Committee on Excellence in Maternal Healthcare. “Dublin Declaration on Maternal Healthcare.” September 2012. http://dublindeclaration.com.

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The three most frequently cited “hard cases” in which some argue abortion might be justified are rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother. However, women rarely report that they are seeking an abortion for any of these reasons:

Rape: 0.3%
Incest: 0.03%
Protection of mother’s life: 0.1%

In other words, out of 1,000 women procuring abortion, only three cite rape as the primary reason, and only one cites protecting her life as the reason for the abortion. Out of 10,000 women procuring abortion, only three cite incest as a reason.

Sources:

Johnston, Wm. Robert. “Reasons given for having abortions in the United States.” Johnston’s Archive. Last modified August 16, 2012. http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/abreasons.html.

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Half of women procuring abortions have had at least one previous abortion.

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute. “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.” July 2013. http://guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

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Research indicates that 98% of all abortions are related to issues of  “personal choice.” The primary reasons women give for having an abortion include not feeling emotionally capable (32%) or financially capable (25%) of raising a child, and concern that having a child would drastically alter her life (16%).

A 2000-2001 study by the Guttmacher Institute also found that more than half of women having abortions had been using contraception during the month they became pregnant; 16.9% of them claimed their contraceptives failed despite perfect use.

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute. “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.” July 2013. http://guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

Johnston, Wm. Robert. “Reasons given for having abortions in the United States.” Johnston’s Archive. Last modified August 16, 2012. http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/abreasons.html.

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According to the website AbortionDocs.org, there are 620 facilities specializing in abortion—commonly called “abortion clinics”—plus another 166 offering only medical abortions. The vast majority of abortions are performed at these facilities. Many abortions are also performed at hospitals and physicians’ offices, but a precise accounting of these locations is not available.

Sources:

AbortionDocs. Accessed October 17, 2013. http://abortiondocs.org.

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Based on the date of the mother’s last menstrual period, the breakdown of abortions is as follows:

Weeks of Pregnancy Percentage Yearly total
< 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
All abortions 100% 1.21 million

This means approximately 88% of abortions occur in the first trimester (first 12 weeks) of pregnancy.

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute. “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.” July 2013. http://guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

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Women living below the federal poverty line abort at a higher rate than women living above the poverty line. The Guttmacher Institute reports that a single woman below the poverty line is five times more likely to abort than a woman who is not low-income.

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute. 2010, May. Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/US-Abortion-Patients.pdf.

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According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion breaks down along racial/ethnic lines as follows:

White: 36% Hispanic: 25%
Black: 30% Other: 9%

While blacks and Hispanics comprise only 29% of the population, they account for nearly 55% of all abortions. A black baby is four times as likely to be aborted as a white baby; a Hispanic baby is 2.5 times more likely to be aborted than a white baby.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Abortion Surveillance—United States, 2008.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Surveillance Summaries 60, no. 15. (November 25, 2011). http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6015.pdf.

U.S. Census Bureau. USA Quick Facts from the U.S. Census Bureau. 2010, November 4. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html.

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About 22% of all pregnancies end in abortion in the United States. There were 1.21 million abortions in 2008 compared to 4.25 million live births.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Births: Preliminary Data for 2008.” National Vital Statistics Reports 58 no. 16 (April 6, 2010). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_16.pdf.

Guttmacher Institute. “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.” July 2013. http://guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

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The age breakdown of women having abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is as follows (numbers rounded):

Less than 15 years: < 0.5%
Age 15-17: 6%
Age 18-19: 11%
Age 20-24: 33%
Age 25-29: 24%
Age 30+:  26%

This means that roughly half of all abortions are performed on women 24 years old or younger.

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute. “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.” July 2013. http://guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

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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.
The number of abortions performed in 2008 is slightly up from the number in 2005 (the next most recent year for which data is available):

Total abortions in 2008: 1,212,350
Total abortions in 2005: 1,206,200

This is an increase of over 6,000 abortions from 2005 to 2008.

Sources:

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 (March 2011): 41-50.

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Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, there have been approximately 56 million abortions performed in the United States.

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute. “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.” July 2013. http://guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

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