Why Do Women Have Abortions?

Understanding women’s reasons for abortion can help personalize the debate over the issue, correct public misconceptions, and allow the chance for compassion. How do women decide it is the right thing to do, not just for themselves, but also for the unborn child and their other children?

A young woman holding a pregnancy test
 

Women don't have a lot of places where they can talk about their abortion reasons—or their feelings after seeking an abortion—without being judged. Even though abortion is the most common surgical procedure performed for women in the U.S., it's also the most stigmatized.

The decision to have an abortion is generally decided for many reasons. Most women usually cite several reasons for abortion. Research has consistently revealed similar reasons from women as to why they’ve chosen to have an abortion.

Common Abortion Reasons

Research collected from 2008 through 2010 asked women about the reasons for getting an abortion. Some listed multiple reasons for their decision. The reasons, and the percentage of women who gave each one, are:

  • Not financially prepared: 40%
  • Bad timing, not ready, or unplanned: 36%
  • Partner-related reasons (including the relationship is bad or new, she doesn't want to be a single mother, her partner is not supportive, does not want the baby, is abusive, or is the wrong guy): 31%
  • Need to focus on her other children: 29%
  • Interferes with educational or vocational plans: 20%
  • Not emotionally or mentally prepared: 19%
  • Health-related reasons (includes concern for her own health, the health of the fetus, use of prescription or non-prescription drugs, alcohol, or tobacco): 12%
  • Want a better life for a baby than she could provide: 12%
  • Not independent or mature enough for a baby: 7%
  • Influences from family or friends: 5%
  • Doesn't want a baby or to place the baby for adoption: 4%

This survey used open-ended questions rather than having women select from a checklist of researcher-generated reasons. Previous surveys that had a set of answers got many responses for these reasons:

  • Having a baby would dramatically change my life
  • I have completed my childbearing
  • Don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant

It's also interesting to point out that most women cite two to four reasons for abortion, not just one.

In general, younger women often cite that they are unprepared for the transition to motherhood, and older women consistently indicate that they are already responsible for children and/or are past the childbearing stage in their lives.

Misconceptions About Reasons for Abortion

Many people think women’s reasons for abortion center around using it simply as a method of birth control. A common perception is that abortion is done for convenience and as an easy way out.

Abortion is a complicated and complex issue. Most women who are faced with this decision do not make it lightly.

Most women of every age, race, income level, parity, and education who chose an abortion cite reasons having to do with concerns about responsibility to children and other dependents—as well as concern about the children they may have in the future.

Women say they base their decision mainly on their ability to remain financially stable as well as being able to care for the children they already have.

Women who have had an abortion say it's not the easy way out. It's a painful and difficult decision she makes in consideration of what is the right thing to do by the child. It's a decision that will be with her for the rest of her life.

The Complexity of Abortion Decisions

A common judgment about a woman with an unplanned pregnancy is that she was irresponsible and not using birth control.

However, half of all unintended pregnancies occur while women are using birth control.

Given this, when faced with the reality that their birth control failed, many women are conflicted over what to do. For some, abortion is against her morality or religious beliefs, yet not for others.

The public debate over abortion also makes the choice more complex. The decision to seek an abortion is multifaceted and usually heart-wrenching for the people involved.

Research further establishes that women who chose abortion stress how they consciously examined the moral aspects of their abortion decision.

Though some women believed abortion was wrong and sinful, many of them (and others, in general) believed that carelessly having a child was sinful as well. They decided an abortion was the correct and most responsible choice.

Most women who have chosen to terminate their pregnancies will speak to the complexity of their decision as well as how intense and difficult it is to make a decision.

Women take into account the moral weight of their responsibilities to their families, themselves, and children they might have in the future. Personal, family, social, moral, and economic factors all factor into reasons for abortion.

A Word From Verywell

Shedding light on women’s reasons for seeking abortions can help can inform public opinion—and hopefully help to prevent or correct misperceptions.

Understanding the complexity of this decision and the reasons why a woman chooses to exercise this choice may open the doorway for compassion and understanding for women face in this painful situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are common reasons for an abortion?

    According to a 2013 study from the University of California, San Francisco, women sought an abortion if a pregnancy was unplanned and had an adverse impact on either a relationship, educational or career plans, or the ability to care for current children. Roughly 40% of women said they were simply not financially prepared.

  • What are uncommon reasons for an abortion?

    The impact of an unplanned pregnancy on finances, education, work, and relationships are common reasons for an abortion. By contrast, a woman is less likely to seek an abortion if she simply "didn't want" a baby, didn't "feel mature enough" to have a baby, or was influenced by others to have an abortion.

  • When is an abortion medically recommended?

    The decision to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons can be a difficult one but may be recommended if:

    • Tests show that the fetus has a serious genetic or medical condition that is certain to result in death before or soon after birth.
    • The mother is at risk of death if the pregnancy continues.
  • How many late-term abortions are there?

    Late-term abortions (performed after 21 weeks) account for only 1.2% of all abortions in the United States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The majority of these are for medical reasons.

  • How common are self-abortions in the U.S.?

    Due to abortion restrictions in some states as well as longstanding issues related to poverty, self-abortion is on the rise in the United States. According to a 2020 study from Columbia University, no less than 7% of women in the U.S. will attempt self-abortion, possibly putting their health or lives at risk.

  • How many U.S. states restrict abortion?

    According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were no less than 90 abortion restrictions enacted in 2021 alone—the most ever for a single year. In total, 21 state legislatures have enacted 573 abortion restrictions since 2011 and 1,320 since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade in 1973.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Lotto R, Smith LK, Armstrong N. Clinicians' perspectives of parental decision-making following diagnosis of a severe congenital anomaly: A qualitative studyBMJ Open. 2017;7(5):e014716. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014716

  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Abortion in later pregnancy. Updated December 5, 2019.

  4. Ralph L, Foster DG, Raifman S, et al. Prevalence of self-managed abortion among women of reproductive age in the United StatesJAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(12):e2029245. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.29245

  5. Guttmacher Institute. Policy trends in the states, 2017. Updated January 2, 2018.