Why Do People Have Abortions?

The decision to have an abortion is rarely made lightly. The heated public debate can make it even harder.

This article looks at the social stigma, reasons for having an abortion, common misconceptions, and what goes into the decision.

A young woman holding a pregnancy test
 

The Stigma

Abortion is the most common surgical procedure done on American females. It's also the most stigmatized.

People who've had an abortion may feel too judged to talk about their reasons or how they felt afterward.

Research has consistently revealed similar reasons as to why someone chooses an abortion. The decision is made for many reasons. Most people cite several.

Common Abortion Reasons

In a study asking the reasons behind abortion, some people listed multiple reasons. This survey used open-ended questions, not a checklist of researcher-generated reasons.

REASONS % NOTES
Not financially prepared 40%
Bad timing, not ready, or unplanned 36%  
Partner-related reasons   New or bad relationship
Would be a single parent
Partner isn't supportive
Partner doesn't want the baby
Partner is abusive
Partner is the "wrong guy"
Need to focus on other children 29%  
Interferes with educational or job plans 20%  
Not emotionally or mentally prepared 19%  
Health-related reasons 12% Concern for their own health
Concern for the fetus' health
Use of medications, other drugs, alcohol, or tobacco 
Want a better life for a baby than they could provide 12%  
Not independent or mature enough 7%  
Influence from family or friends 5%  
Doesn't want a baby or to place the baby up for adoption 4%  

Previous surveys have had a list of answers to choose from. Common responses were:

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

Most people cite two to four reasons for abortion, not just one.

Younger people often say they're not ready for parenthood. Older people frequently say they're already responsible for children or are past the childbearing stage.

Recap

Abortion is stigmatized and hard to talk about. Many reasons are given for having an abortion. Most people cite a few reasons. Sometimes they're too young or unprepared, don't have a supportive partner, or want to be done having children.

Misconceptions About Reasons for Abortion

Some people think abortion is used simply as birth control. A common perception is that it's a "convenience" and an "easy way out."

That's not the case. In truth, it's very often because of family obligations and concerns about future children. Those answers are seen regardless of:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Income
  • Educational level
  • Parental status

They base their decision mainly on their ability to stay financially stable and care for their current children.

Abortion is a complicated and complex issue. Most people who face this decision don't make it lightly.

Those who've had an abortion say it's not an easy way out. It's a painful and difficult decision. And they made the choice while considering what's right for the baby.

Regardless of the reasons, it's a decision that stays with you forever.

Recap

Despite misconceptions, abortion is rarely thought of as birth control or an easy way out. It's often based on concerns about the life the baby would have, finances, and the ability to care for other children and dependents.

The Complexity of Abortion Decisions

Abortion opponents often criticize people with unplanned pregnancies. They say it's irresponsible and those people should've used birth control.

But half of unintended pregnancies occur despite birth control. When faced with birth control failure, many people are conflicted over what to do.

For some, abortion is against their moral or religious beliefs. That's not the case for others.

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

In studies, those who chose abortion stress that they consciously examined the moral aspects of their decision. Some do believe abortion is wrong and sinful.

But many of those same people also believe it's sinful to carelessly have a child. They decided an abortion was the most responsible choice.

Most people who've terminated pregnancies speak to the complexity and difficulty of their decision.

Summary

Common reasons for abortion include:

  • Being too young
  • Having an abusive partner
  • Not wanting more children
  • Not being able to afford it

Most people cite multiple reasons. The decision is a difficult and complex one. It's usually not just a form of birth control or an easy way out.

Those considering abortion take into account their responsibilities to their families, themselves, and children they might have in the future. Personal, family, social, moral, and economic factors all factor into it.

A Word From Verywell

Shedding light on reasons for abortions can help can inform public opinion and correct misperceptions.

Understanding the complexity of this decision and why some people exercise this choice may open the doorway for compassion and understanding. It's very much needed by those who've faced or are facing this painful situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are common reasons for an abortion?

    According to studies, people seek abortion if the pregnancy or baby:

    • Were unplanned
    • Could have a negative impact on a relationship or educational or career plans
    • Could compromise their ability to care for current children

    Roughly 40% of participants said they were simply not financially prepared.

  • What are uncommon reasons for an abortion?

    Less common reasons given for choosing an abortion include:

    • Not wanting a baby
    • Not feeling mature enough
    • The influence of other people
  • When is an abortion medically recommended?

    The decision to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons is a difficult one. It may be recommended if:

    • The fetus has a medical condition that will be fatal before or soon after birth
    • The pregnancy puts the parent's life in danger
  • 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. The vast majority of these are for medical reasons.

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

    Due to abortion restrictions in some states and longstanding issues related to poverty, self-abortion is on the rise in the United States.

    According to a 2020 study, no less than 7% of females in the U.S. attempt self-abortion. This often puts their health or lives at risk.

  • How many U.S. states restrict abortion?

    In total, 21 state legislatures have enacted:

    • 573 abortion restrictions since 2011
    • 1,320 since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision

    No less than 90 abortion restrictions were enacted in 2021 alone. That's the most ever in a single year.

    However, on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade—ending the constitutional right to abortion. Each state now has the power to regulate or ban the procedure. Since that ruling, several states have enforced a complete ban on abortion, with many others expected to prohibit or greatly restrict abortion access.

4 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.
  1. 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

  2. Kaiser Family Foundation. Abortion in later pregnancy.

  3. 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

  4. Guttmacher Institute. Policy trends in the states, 2017.

Additional Reading

By Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC
Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC, is a published author, college professor, and mental health consultant with over 15 years of counseling experience.