Screen Readers Skip to Content

Abortion: General Overview and Statistics

Published: 2015-12-03 - Updated: 2021-07-14
Author: Thomas C. Weiss | Contact: Disabled World (

Synopsis: General information and U.S. statistics regarding abortion, one of the most common medical procedures performed in America every year. In the last two decades, considerable progress has been made in technology used for second-trimester abortion. Social issues surrounding abortion have led to more women seeking terminations in pregnancy. New estimates are that 50 million abortions are performed around the world every year, with 30 million of them in developing countries.

Main Digest

Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures performed in America every year. More than 40% of all women will end a pregnancy by abortion at some point in their reproductive lives. While women of every social class seek terminations, the average woman who ends her pregnancy is either unmarried, white, young, over the age of forty, or poor.


Definitions of abortion vary across and within countries as well as among different institutions. The standard medical definition of abortion is termination of a pregnancy when the fetus is not viable. An abortion means the termination of a pregnancy. It can be induced through a pharmacological or a surgical procedure, or it may be spontaneous (also called miscarriage). The National Center for Health Statistics defines an "abortus" as "a fetus or embryo removed or expelled from the uterus during the first half of gestation - 20 weeks or less, or in the absence of accurate dating criteria, born weighing < 500 g.

In America and around the world, abortion - also known as, 'elective termination of pregnancy,' remains common. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the well-known Roe Vs. Wade decision in the year 1973. At this time, there are around 1.2 million abortions performed every year in America.

Around the world, some 20-30 million legal abortions are performed every year, with another 10-20 million abortions performed illegally. Illegal abortions are not safe and account for 13% of all deaths of women due to serious complications. Death from abortion is almost unknown in America, or in countries where abortion is available legally.

Despite the introduction of newer, more effective and more widely available birth control methods - greater than half of the six million pregnancies occurring every year in America are considered to be unplanned by the women who are pregnant. Of these unplanned pregnancies, around half end in abortion.

Since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, hundreds of federal and state laws have been either proposed or passed. Abortion is one of the most visible, controversial and legally active areas in the field of medicine. The laws address a number of controversial questions.

Before Legal Abortion

Before the 19th century, the majority of states in America had no specific abortion laws. Women were able to end a pregnancy before viability with the assistance of medical personnel. Starting with a Connecticut statute and followed by an 1829 New York law, the next two decades saw the enactment of a series of laws restricting abortion, punishing providers and - in some instances, punishing the woman who was seeking an abortion.

The first U.S. federal law on the subject was the Comstock Law of 1873, a law which permitted a special agent of the postal service to open mail dealing with contraception or abortion in order to suppress the circulation of, 'obscene,' materials.

From 1900-1960's, abortions were prohibited by law. The Kinsey report; however, noted that premarital pregnancies were electively aborted and public and doctor opinion started to be shaped by the alarming reports of increased numbers of unsafe and illegal abortions.

In the year of 1965, 265 deaths occurred because of illegal abortions. Of all pregnancy-related complications in New York and California, 20% were due to abortions. A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions granted increased rights to women and ensured their right to choice. No decision was more important than Griswold Vs. Connecticut which, in 1965, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and ruled that a married couple had a constitutional right to obtain birth control from their health care professional.

When Does Life Begin?

When does life begin? The question is one of the issues surrounding the controversy about abortion. The legal issues include the following.


Loosely defined the term, 'viability,' is the ability of the fetus to survive outside of the mother's womb without life support. A number of landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions dealt with this question.

In Webster Vs. Reproductive Health Services in 1989, the court upheld the state of Missouri's requirement for pre-abortion viability testing after twenty weeks' gestation.

There are no reliable or medically acceptable tests for viability before twenty-eight weeks' gestation; however.

Doctor's Judgment:

The preamble to this law states that life starts at conception and the unborn are entitled to the same constitutional rights as anyone else.

By the year 1992, in a ruling controversial for its inclusion of mandatory wait periods, elaborate consent processes and record-keeping regulations, Planned Parenthood Vs. Casey attempted to address the issue of viability by inserting language recognizing that some fetuses never attain viability.

In Colautti Vs. Franklin, the court overturned a Pennsylvania law requiring doctors to follow specific directives in certain medical instances and recognized the judgment of the doctor where they are concerned.

The Matter of Parental Consent

A number of federal and state decisions have attempted to require parental notification, informed consent, waiting periods and abortion counseling.

People against abortion argue that parents need to be informed about and approve an abortion for a daughter under the age of eighteen.

People who support the rights of a woman to choose abortion say parental consent is not needed for a woman to carry a pregnancy to term; neither do parents need to give permission for a woman seeking birth control such as an intrauterine device or pills.

Parents are also not consulted when a woman seeks treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.

Research reveals that many young women under the age of eighteen do involve their parents in their decision to abort. Laws requiring parental consent are forcing minors to obtain abortions far later in their pregnancies. Some minors even have to travel great distances to states with no such law.

Statistics Related to Abortion

In America in 2003, approximately sixteen women for every thousand women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four years had an abortion.

For every thousand live births, around 241 abortions were performed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the last two decades, considerable progress has been made in technology used for second-trimester abortion. Social issues surrounding abortion have led to more women seeking terminations in pregnancy.

Legal abortion is a safe procedure. Infection rates are less than 1% and fewer than 1 in 100,000 deaths happen from first-trimester abortions. Abortion is safer for the mother than carrying a pregnancy to term. Medical and surgical abortions are safe and effective when performed by trained practitioners.

The majority of women seeking abortions are white at 53%; 36% are black and 8% are of another race - 3% are of unknown racial background. Abortion rates are highest among women between the ages of 20-24. Rates are lowest among women younger than 20 or over the age of 40, yet these women are much more likely to have an abortion should they become pregnant.

Around the world, abortion causes at least 13% of all deaths among women who are pregnant. New estimates are that 50 million abortions are performed around the world every year, with 30 million of them in developing countries. Around 20 million of these are performed unsafely due to conditions or a lack of provider training.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

In Other News:

You're reading Disabled World. See our homepage for informative disability news, reviews, sports, stories and how-tos. You can also connect with us on social media such as Twitter and Facebook or learn more about Disabled World on our about us page.

Disclaimer: Disabled World provides general information only. Materials presented are in no way meant to be a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified practitioner, nor should they be construed as such. Any 3rd party offering or advertising on does not constitute endorsement by Disabled World.

Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2015, December 3). Abortion: General Overview and Statistics. Disabled World. Retrieved September 19, 2021 from