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Abortion

Invasive procedure resulting in pregnancy termination and death of the fetus.

Abortion is the final consequence of a woman's decision to terminate her pregnancy. In the U.S., more than 50% of the pregnancies are unintended, and 50% of these end in abortion. More than half (53%) of the unplanned pregnancies happen among the 10% of women who practice no contraception. Most women getting abortions are young: 55% are under 25, including 21% teenagers.

Between five and seven weeks, a pregnancy can be ended by a procedure called menstrual extraction, shown above. (Electronic Illustrations Group. Reproduced with permission.)

While abortion is practiced throughout society, in all socioeconomic strata, poor women are three times more likely to have an abortion than their well-off counterparts.

White women have 63% of all abortions, but the non-white abortion rate is more than twice the white rate—54 per 1,000 versus 20 per 1,000. About 93% of all abortions are performed for social, not medical, reasons; in other words, most abortions are, from the medical point of view, unnecessary: the mother's health and life are not in jeopardy, and there are no abnormalities which would justify the termination of the fetus's life. Social reasons include fear of motherhood, fear of losing a partner who doesn't want children, fear of parental and social disapproval, financial difficulties, lack of support, and psychological problems, among others.

Abortion is a complex issue that raises a plethora of medical, ethical, political, legal, and psychological questions, and is viewed by proponents and opponents as one of society's fundamental problems. "Abortion," Paul D. Simmons has written (Butler and Walbert, 1992), "is related to life and death, sexuality and procreation—all of which are integrally related in the human psyche." While the "pro-choice" camp defends a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy, "pro-life" forces define abortion as murder. As commentators have noted, dialogue between the two camps has been difficult, seemingly impossible, because opinions are often based on strong feelings and beliefs. An additional obstacle to dialogue is the fact that the two opposing sides use fundamentally different discourses. Pro-life discourse often draws its strength from the Christian axiom about the sanctity of life, while pro-choice thinking proceeds from the belief that an individual woman has the freedom to act in her best interest.

While vulnerable to moral condemnation, and even harassment, adult women have the protection of liberal legislation in seeking an abortion (in Roe v. Wade, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a constitutional right). Teenagers, however, are subject to state laws; in 25 states, a minor cannot seek an abortion without parental consent. Traditionally, any medical treatment of a minor requires parental consent, and as the Planned Parenthood Fact Sheet "Teenagers, Abortion, and Government Intrusion Laws" points out, a physician treating a minor without parental consent is committing the common law equivalent of battery. However, "in the area of abortion, there have never been criminal penalties for treating a minor on her own consent."

Zoran Minderovic

Further Reading

Butler, J. Douglas, and David F. Walbert, eds. Abortion, Medicine, and the Law. 4th rev. ed. New York: Facts On File, 1992.

Darroch Forrest, Jacqueline, and Jennifer J. Frost. "The Family Planning Attitudes and Experiences of Low-Income Women." Family Planning Perspectives 28, no. 6. (November-December 1996): 246-55.

Hern, Warren M. Abortion Practice. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1984.

Matthews, Stephen, David Ribar, and Mark Wilhelm. "The Effects of Economic Conditions and Access to Reproductive Health Services on State Abortion Rates and Birthrates." Family Planning Perspectives 29, no. 2. (March-April 1997): 52-60.

"Teenagers, Abortion, and Government Intrusion Laws." (Planned Parenthood Fact Sheet). New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, October 1992.

Torres, Aida, and Jacqueline Darroch Forrest. "Why Do Women Have Abortions?" Family Planning Perspectives 20, no. 4. (July-August 1988).

Additional topics

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