Abortion is a medical procedure resulting in pregnancy termination and death of the fetus.

Abortion is the final consequence of a woman's decision to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus or embryo is able to survive on its own. The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) states on its website MedlinePlus that the definition for an abortion “is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed health care professional.” An abortion can happen spontaneously, which is commonly called a miscarriage. It can occur deliberately, in which case it is called an induced abortion.

Statistics on abortions

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 730,322 legal induced abortions occurred in the United States (from data sent by 49 of the 50 U.S. states). From this CDC data (which came from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report), the abortion rate stood at 13.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 years to 44 years, and the abortion ratio resulted in 219 abortions per 1,000 live births.

When compared with the previous year (2010), the total number and rate of reported abortions both decreased by 5%. From 2002 to 2011, the rate, total number, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 14%, 13%, and 12%, respectively. The CDC stated: “The large decreases in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions from 2010 to 2011, in combination with decreases that occurred during 2008–2010, resulted in historic lows for all three measures of abortion.”

The majority of abortions in 2011 and throughout the data period were found by the CDC to be among women in their 20s. Of all the abortions that took place in 2011, the vast majority occurred early in the gestation period. In fact, most abortions (91.4%) were performed at 13 weeks or earlier whereas 7.3% occurred between 14 and 20 weeks of gestation and 1.4% at 21 weeks or later.

While abortion occurs throughout the U.S. population, in all socioeconomic strata, poor women are three times more likely to have an abortion than their well-off counterparts. Along racial lines, according to the CDC, Latino-American women are twice as likely and African-American women are five times more likely to have an abortion than are white women. White women have 63% of all abortions, but the nonwhite abortion rate is more than twice the white rate— 54 per 1,000 versus 20 per 1,000.

The CDC reported that, in 2011, 19.1% of all abortions were of a medical nature. The majority of abortions are performed for social reasons, not medical ones. Thus, the mother's health and life are not in jeopardy when these social abortions are performed, and there are no abnormalities that would justify the termination of the fetus's life. Social reasons include fear of motherhood, fear of losing a partner who does not want children, fear of parental and social disapproval, financial difficulties, lack of support, and psychological problems, among others.

Classifications of abortions

Two classifications of abortion are observed in the United States: the in-clinic abortion (sometimes also called the surgical abortion) and the medication abortion (or medical abortion). The in-clinic abortion is performed as a medical procedure in a medical clinic. Many Planned Parenthood heath centers offer inclinic abortions. The medication abortion occurs when medicine is taken to end a pregnancy and is available only during the early weeks of the first trimester in a pregnancy.

Methotrexate and misoprostol (MTX) are used for a medication abortion during the first seven weeks (49 days of pregnancy). Methotrexate is injected or given orally during the initial office visit. Then, while at home, misoprostol tablets are taken orally or inserted vaginally three to seven days later. Uterine contractions result within a few hours to a few days later, which result in the fetus being ejected from the body. The two drugs are also referred to as RU-486 or the abortion pill.


The time of pregnancy between conception and birth.
A drug used to treat certain types of cancerof the breast, lung, head, neck, and skin and to treat severe psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is one of two drugs (the other being misoprostol) used to induce an abortion.
A drug used to prevent and treat stomach ulcers, treat postpartum bleeding when uterine contractions are insufficient, and induce abortion, along with methotrexate.

The abortion debate

Abortion is a complex and controversial subject that raises many medical, ethical, political, legal, and psychological questions. People who believe abortion is a woman's right are called pro-choice; People who oppose abortion are called pro-life. As commentators have noted, dialogue between these two groups is often difficult because abortion opinions are often based on strong feelings and beliefs. Pro-choice thinking proceeds from the belief that an individual woman has the right to act in her best interest whereas pro-life discourse is often based on a religious belief about the sanctity of life.

While sometimes subject to criticism and even harassment, adult women seeking an abortion are protected by law. As stated in the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a constitutional right based on a woman's right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Minors and abortion

Teenagers are subject to state laws regarding abortion. According to Planned Parenthood, a minor cannot seek an abortion without parental or legal guardian consent or notification in 38 of the 50 U.S. states. In half of the states (25), a parent or legal guardian of a girl under a certain age (usually 16, 17, or 18 years) must give permission for the teen to have an abortion. In some cases, called judicial bypass, a judge can issue permission for a minor to have an abortion, without the need to inform the parent or guardian. In some states, neither permission from a judge nor a parent or guardian is necessary when abuse or neglect is involved or the minor is facing a medical emergency; however, a doctor and appropriate authorities must be involved. Other rules apply depending on the state of residence of the girl.

See also Birth .



Butler, J. Douglas, and David F. Walbert, eds. Abortion, Medicine, and the Law. New York: Facts On File, 1992. The 2012 fifth edition is available in Kindle ebook.

Thompson, Tamera, ed. Abortion. Current Controversies series. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, Cengage Learning, 2015.


Cockrill, Kate, and Leila Hessini. “Introduction: Bringing Abortion Stigma into Focus.” Women and Health 54, no. 7 (2014): 593–98.

Doran, Frances, and Susan Nancarrow. “Barriers and Facilitators of Access to First-trimester Abortion Services for Women in the Developed World: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care 41 (2015): 170–80.


American Pregnancy Association. “Unplanned Pregnancy.” http://americanpregnancy.org/unplanned-pregnancy/ (accessed July 22, 2015).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Reproductive Health: Data and Statistics.” http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/#Abortion (accessed July 22, 2015).

MedlinePlus. “Abortion.” http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/abortion.html (accessed July 22, 2015).

Planned Parenthood. “Abortion.” http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion (accessed July 22, 2015).


American Pregnancy Association, 1425 Greenway Dr., Ste. 440, Irving, TX, 75038, (972) 550-0140, (800) 672-2296, info@americanpregnancy.org, http://americanpregnancy.org.

National Abortion Federation, 1660 L St. NW, Ste. 450, Washington, DC, 20036, (202) 667-5881, Fax: (202) 667-5890, (800) 772-9100, naf@prochoice.org, http://prochoice.org.