Abortion: General Overview and Statistics

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2015/12/03 - Updated: 2023/02/10
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

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 the technology used for second-trimester abortion. Social issues surrounding abortion have led to more women seeking terminations during pregnancy. New estimates are that 50 million abortions are performed worldwide every year, with 30 million in developing countries.


Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by removing or expulsing an embryo or fetus. An abortion that occurs without intervention is known as a miscarriage or "spontaneous abortion"; these occur in approximately 30% to 40% of pregnancies. When deliberate steps are taken to end a pregnancy, it is called an induced abortion, or less frequently, "induced miscarriage." The unmodified word abortion generally refers to an induced abortion.

Main Digest

Abortion is one of America's most common medical procedures annually. 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 unmarried, white, young, over forty, or poor.

Definitions of abortion vary across and within countries and different institutions. The standard medical definition of abortion is the termination of a pregnancy when the fetus is not viable. 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 worldwide, 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 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 yearly, with another 10-20 million abortions performed illegally. Illegal abortions are unsafe and account for 13% of all deaths of women due to serious complications. Death from abortion is almost unknown in America or 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 medicine's most visible, controversial, and legally active areas. The laws address several controversial questions.

Before Legal Abortion

Before the 19th century, most states in America had no specific abortion laws. Women could 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 seeking an abortion.

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

From 1900-the 1960s, abortions were prohibited by law. The Kinsey report noted that premarital pregnancies were electively aborted, and the alarming reports of increased numbers of unsafe and illegal abortions and doctor opinions.

In 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 choose. No decision was more important than Griswold Vs. Connecticut, 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 abortion controversy. 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. Several 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.

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 doctor's judgment where they are concerned.

The Matter of Parental Consent

Several 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 to say parental consent is not needed for a woman to carry a pregnancy to term; neither do parents need to permit a woman to seek 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 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 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 the technology used for second-trimester abortion. Social issues surrounding abortion have led to more women seeking terminations during 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 backgrounds. Abortion rates are highest among women between the ages of 20-24. Rates are lowest among women younger than 20 or over 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 worldwide annually, with 30 million in developing countries. Around 20 million are performed unsafely due to conditions or a lack of provider training.

Resources That Provide Relevant Information

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. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2015, December 3). Abortion: General Overview and Statistics. Disabled World. Retrieved April 15, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/health/female/pregnancy/abortion.php

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