Abortion Facts Every Woman Should Know

Reasons, Procedures, and Considerations

Woman undergoing gynecological consultation.
Burger/Getty Images

In This Article

When making a decision about your pregnancy, it is important to have reliable abortion facts. An abortion is a procedure where a woman chooses to end her pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy is a significant concern that affects thousands of people each year. More than half of the 6 million pregnancies occurring each year in the United States are unplanned. According to a study published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, about 50% of the women faced with these unplanned pregnancies were actually using contraception during the month that they conceived. Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures performed in the United States as approximately 1.3 million abortions performed each year. Data indicates that more than 40% of all women will end a pregnancy by abortion at some time in their reproductive lives.

Brief Background

In 1973, the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade ruled that women have the right to an abortion during the first 6 months (2 trimesters) of pregnancy, thereby legalizing abortion. The court asserted that abortion is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution and prohibiting abortion would violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment (which protects against state actions to deny the right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy).

The court determined that a non-viable fetus (one that cannot survive outside the womb) is not a person according to the terms set forth in section one of the Fourteenth Amendment, so due process rights do not apply to the unborn. Since this landmark court decision, numerous federal and state laws have been proposed or passed. Abortion is one of the most controversial and legally active areas in the field of medicine.

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the first federal ban on abortion, which prohibits the procedure of an Intact Dilation and Extraction (D&X) abortion. Although this ban is officially named the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003," it is important to point out that the procedure is more accurately acknowledged in the medical community as Intact D&X; "Partial birth abortion" is a political term, not a medical one.

When Women Seek Abortion

Approximately 88% of abortions are performed within in the first trimester (3 months) of a pregnancy. Roughly 59% take place within the first eight weeks of pregnancy, 19% in weeks 9 to 10, and 10% in weeks 11 to 12.

About 10% of abortions occur during the second trimester (6% in weeks 13-15 and 4% by week 20). After 24 weeks of pregnancy, abortions are only provided due to serious health reasons (and account for less than 1% of total abortions). Earlier abortions are easier, safer, and tend to be less expensive than abortions taking place later in a pregnancy.

Facts and Demographics

  • U.S. women, age 24 and younger, account for about for 52% of those who obtain an abortion. This number is further broken down into: 19% of these abortions are obtained by teenagers, and women age 20 to 24 account for 33% of these abortions.
  • Approximately 60% of abortions are obtained by women who have had at least one child.
  • Two-thirds of all abortions occur in women who have never been married.
  • Women of every social class and race elect to have an abortion: 78% of women who have had an abortion report having a religious affiliation, 88% of women who obtain abortions live in metropolitan areas, and 57% of women who seek abortion are economically disadvantaged (living below the federal poverty level).
  • Of women obtaining abortions, 54% were using a birth control method during the time they became pregnant. Many of these pregnancies resulted from condoms breaking or being used incorrectly (49%) and due to women who missed taking their birth control pills (76%).
  • Half of all women seeking a first abortion had not been using any type of contraception when they conceived (despite agreement with their sexual partners about not wanting to become pregnant).

Deciding to Obtain an Abortion

It is important that a woman make a well-informed decision when she is considering obtaining an abortion. Discussing one’s options with trusted and supported friends or family, as well as early pregnancy counseling, can be helpful in reaching a decision that a woman feels the most right about. Women may have a choice between two or more types of abortion procedures depending on how many weeks pregnant they are. The safest time to have an abortion is 5-10 weeks after your last menstrual period. In the past, there was concern that an abortion may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. More recent and carefully done studies, however, indicate that there is no link between having an abortion and having breast cancer later in life.

Reasons Why Women Have Abortions

The decision to have an abortion is generally decided by both diverse and interrelated reasons. It is important to realize that most women who are faced with this decision do not make it lightly. It is usually with a lot of soul-searching, thinking and weighing out all the scenarios that this decision is made. Over the years, research has consistently revealed similar reasons from women as to why they’ve chosen to have an abortion.


Both medical and surgical abortion methods are available, yet they differ at each stage of pregnancy. Typically, once a pregnancy is past 7 weeks, only surgical abortion methods can be used. Second-trimester abortions tend to carry higher risks than first-trimester ones. Despite popular belief, it is also important to note that the American Psychological Association has found that there is no evidence that a single abortion will cause mental health issues.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Finer, Lawrence B. and Lori F. Frohwirth, Lindsay A. Dauphinee, Susheela Singh and Ann F. Moore. "Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives." Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. 2005, 37(3):110–118. 
  • Guttmacher Institute. (2007). In brief: Facts on induced abortion in the United States
  • Jones, R. K., Darroch, J.E., & Henshaw S.K. (2002). "Contraceptive use among U.S. women having abortions in 2000–2001." Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 34(6), 294–303. 
  • Paul, M. (1999). A clinician's guide to medical and surgical abortion. New York: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Pichler, S. (2007). How Abortion Is Provided. Planned Parenthood.