Abortion in the United States

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Abortion in the United States, and abortion-related issues, are the subject of intense public and political debate and discussion in the United States. Various anti-abortion laws have been on every state statute book since at least 1900. Abortion was prohibited in 30 states and legal under certain circumstances (such as pregnancies resulting from rape or incest) in 20 states. The Supreme Court 1973 decision Roe v. Wade invalidated all of these laws, and set guidelines for the availability of abortion.

Roe established that the abortion right "must be considered against important state interests in regulation."[1] Roe established a "trimester" threshold of state interest in the life of the fetus corresponding to its increasing "viability" (likelihood of survival outside the uterus) over the course of a pregnancy, such that states were prohibited from banning abortion early in pregnancy but allowed to impose increasing restrictions or outright bans later in pregnancy.

That decision was modified by the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the "central holding" in Roe, but replacing the trimester system with the point of fetal viability (whenever it may occur) as defining a state's right to override the woman's autonomy. Casey also lowered the legal standard to which states would be held in justifying restrictions imposed on a woman's rights. Roe had held this to be "strict scrutiny"—the traditional Supreme Court test for impositions upon fundamental Constitutional rights—whereas Casey created a new standard referring to "undue burden", specifically to balance the state's and the woman's interests in the case of abortion.

Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was legal in several areas of the United States, but that decision imposed a uniform framework for state legislation on the subject, and established a minimal period during which abortion must be legal (under greater or lesser degrees of restriction throughout the pregnancy). That basic framework, modified in Casey, remains nominally in place, although the effective availability of abortion varies significantly from state to state. Abortion remains one of the most controversial issues in United States culture and politics, with the main protagonists most often labelled either as "pro-choice" or "pro-life", though shades of opinion exist, and most Americans are considered to be somewhere in the middle.[2]

The pro-choice position was most popular in the early to mid-1990s [3] and has since declined somewhat to levels slightly above its popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s.[3]


Main article: Abortion

The abortion debate has not typically dealt with a spontaneous abortion, which is commonly referred to as a miscarriage until several states passed laws in 2013 prohibiting a woman who miscarried from receiving medical treatment for 48 hours after diagnosis and forcing her to undergo an additional ultrasound prior to her procedure. Before this, the abortion debate was most commonly in relation to an "induced abortion" of an embryo or fetus at some point in a pregnancy, and this is also how the term is used in a legal sense.[4] Another term sometimes used is that of an "elective abortion", which is used in relation to a claim to an unrestricted right of a woman to an abortion, whether or not she chooses to have one.



Abortion laws in the U.S. before Roe.
  Illegal. (30)
  Legal in case of rape (1)
  Legal in case of danger to woman's health (2)
  Legal in case of danger to woman's health, rape or incest, or likely damaged fetus (13)
  Legal on request (4)

At the time of the independence of the United States, English common law on abortion applied in most of the then states, and abortion was not permitted after quickening, that is after the start of fetal movements. James Wilson, a framer of the U.S. Constitution, explained the view as follows:

Abortions became illegal by statute, in Britain in 1803 and various anti-abortion statutes began to appear in the United States from the 1820s codifying or expanding the common law rules. In 1821, a Connecticut law targeted apothecaries who sold poisons to women for purposes of abortion; and New York made post-quickening abortions a felony and pre-quickening abortions a misdemeanor eight years later. It is sometimes argued that the early American abortion laws were motivated not by ethical concerns about abortion but by concern about the safety of the procedure. However, some legal theorists point out that this theory is inconsistent with the fact that abortion was punishable regardless of whether any harm befell the pregnant woman and the fact that many of the early laws punished not only the doctor or abortionist, but also the woman who hired them.[6]

A birth control movement developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries presaging the modern debate over women's body rights.[7] A campaign was launched against the movement and the use and availability of contraceptives.

At the same time, the criminalization of abortion accelerated from the late 1860s, through the efforts of concerned legislators, doctors, and the American Medical Association.[8] In 1873, Anthony Comstock created the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public, and later that year, Comstock successfully influenced the United States Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery by U.S. mail, or by other modes of transportation, of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material, as well as prohibiting any methods of production or publication of information pertaining to the procurement of abortion, the prevention conception and the prevention of venereal disease, even to students of medicine.[9] The production, publication, importation, and distribution of such materials was suppressed under the Comstock Laws as being obscene and similar prohibitions were passed by 24 of the then 37 states.[10]

By 1900 abortion was a felony in every state. Some states did include provisions allowing for abortion in limited circumstances, generally to protect the woman's life or to terminate pregnancies arising from rape or incest. Abortions continued to occur, however, and increasingly became readily available. The American Birth Control League was founded by Margaret Sanger in 1921 to promote the founding of birth control clinics, to enable women to control their own fertility.[11]

In the 1930s, licensed physicians performed an estimated 800,000 abortions a year.[12]

Pre-Roe precedents[edit]

In 1964 Gerri Santoro of Connecticut died trying to obtain an illegal abortion and her photo became the symbol of the pro-choice movement. Some women's rights activist groups developed their own skills to provide abortions to women who could not obtain them elsewhere. As an example, in Chicago, a group known as "Jane" operated a floating abortion clinic throughout much of the 1960s. Women seeking the procedure would call a designated number and be given instructions on how to find "Jane".[13]

In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut struck down one of the remaining contraception Comstock laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, Griswold only applied to marital relationships. Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) extended its holding to unmarried persons as well. Following Griswold case, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a medical bulletin accepting a recommendation from 6 years earlier which clarified that conception is implantation, not fertilization; and consequently birth control methods that prevented implantation became classified as contraceptives, not abortifacients.

In 1967, Colorado became the first state to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, or in which pregnancy would lead to permanent physical disability of the woman. Similar laws were passed in California, Oregon, and North Carolina. In 1970, Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortions on the request of the woman,[14] and New York repealed its 1830 law and allowed abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Similar laws were soon passed in Alaska and Washington. A law in Washington, D.C., which allowed abortion to protect the life or health of the woman, was challenged in the Supreme Court in 1971 in United States v. Vuitch. The court upheld the law, deeming that "health" meant "psychological and physical well-being," essentially allowing abortion in Washington, DC. By the end of 1972, 13 states had a law similar to that of Colorado, while Mississippi allowed abortion in cases of rape or incest only and Alabama and Massachusetts allowed abortions only in cases where the womans's physical health was endangered. In order to obtain abortions during this period, women would often travel from a state where abortion was illegal to states where it was legal. The legal position prior to Roe v. Wade was that abortion was illegal in 30 states and legal under certain circumstances in 20 states.[15]

In the late 1960s, a number of organizations were formed to mobilize opinion both against and for the legalization of abortion. In 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops assigned Monsignor James T. McHugh to document efforts to reform abortion laws, and anti-abortion groups began forming in various states in 1967. In 1968, McHugh led an advisory group which became the National Right to Life Committee.[16][17] The forerunner of the NARAL Pro-Choice America was formed in 1969 to oppose restrictions on abortion and expand access to abortion.[18] Following Roe v. Wade, in late 1973 NARAL became the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Roe v. Wade[edit]

Main article: Roe v. Wade
The United States Supreme Court membership in 1973.

In deciding Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that a Texas statute forbidding abortion except when necessary to save the life of the mother was unconstitutional. The Court arrived at its decision by concluding that the issue of abortion and abortion rights falls under the right to privacy. In its opinion it listed several landmark cases where the court had previously found a right to privacy implied by the Constitution. The Court did not recognize a right to abortion in all cases:

State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.[19]

The Court held that a right to privacy existed and included the right to have an abortion. The court found that a mother had a right to abortion until viability, a point to be determined by the abortion doctor. After viability a woman can obtain an abortion for health reasons, which the Court defined broadly to include psychological well-being.

A central issue in the Roe case (and in the wider abortion debate in general) is whether human life or personhood begins at conception, birth, or at some point in between. The Court declined to make an attempt at resolving this issue, noting: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer." Instead, it chose to point out that historically, under English and American common law and statutes, "the unborn have never been recognized ...as persons in the whole sense" and thus the fetuses are not legally entitled to the protection afforded by the right to life specifically enumerated in the Fourteenth Amendment. So rather than asserting that human life begins at any specific point, the court simply declared that the State has a "compelling interest" in protecting "potential life" at the point of viability.

Jane Roe and Mary Doe[edit]

"Jane Roe" of the landmark Roe v. Wade lawsuit, whose real name is Norma McCorvey, is now an anti-abortion advocate. McCorvey writes that she never had the abortion and became the "pawn" of two young and ambitious lawyers who were looking for a plaintiff who they could use to challenge the Texas state law prohibiting abortion. However, attorney Linda Coffee says she does not remember McCorvey having any hesitancy about wanting an abortion.[20]

"Mary Doe" of the companion Doe v. Bolton lawsuit, the mother of three whose real name is Sandra Cano, maintains that she never wanted or had an abortion and that she is "ninety-nine percent certain that [she] did not sign" the affidavit to initiate the suit.[21]

Later judicial decisions[edit]

In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court abandoned Roe's strict trimester framework.[22] Instead adopting the standard of undue burden for evaluating state abortion restrictions,[23] but reemphasized the right to abortion as grounded in the general sense of liberty and privacy protected under the constitution: "Constitutional protection of the woman's decision to terminate her pregnancy derives from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It declares that no State shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The controlling word in the cases before us is "liberty."[24]

The Supreme Court continues to grapple with cases on the subject. On April 18, 2007 it issued a ruling in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart, involving a federal law entitled the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 which President George W. Bush had signed into law. The law banned intact dilation and extraction, which opponents of abortion rights referred to as "partial-birth abortion," and stipulated that anyone breaking the law would get a prison sentence up to 2.5 years. The United States Supreme Court upheld the 2003 ban by a narrow majority of 5-4, marking the first time the Court has allowed a ban on any type of abortion since 1973. The opinion, which came from justice Anthony Kennedy, was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and the two recent appointees, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Current legal situation[edit]

Federal legislation[edit]

Since 1995, led by Congressional Republicans, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have moved several times to pass measures banning the procedure of intact dilation and extraction, also commonly known as partial birth abortion. After several long and emotional debates on the issue, such measures passed twice by wide margins, but President Bill Clinton vetoed those bills in April 1996 and October 1997 on the grounds that they did not include health exceptions. Congressional supporters of the bill argue that a health exception would render the bill unenforceable, since the Doe v. Bolton decision defined "health" in vague terms, justifying any motive for obtaining an abortion. Subsequent Congressional attempts at overriding the veto were unsuccessful.

On October 2, 2003, with a vote of 281-142, the House again approved a measure banning the procedure, called the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Through this legislation, a doctor could face up to two years in prison and face civil lawsuits for performing such an abortion. A woman who undergoes the procedure cannot be prosecuted under the measure. The measure contains an exemption to allow the procedure if the woman's life is threatened. On October 21, 2003, the United States Senate passed the same bill by a vote of 64-34, with a number of Democrats joining in support. The bill was signed by President George W. Bush on November 5, 2003, but a federal judge blocked its enforcement in several states just a few hours after it became public law. The Supreme Court upheld the nationwide ban on the procedure in the case Gonzales v. Carhart on April 18, 2007, signaling a substantial change in the Court's approach to abortion law.[25] The 5-4 ruling said the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does not conflict with previous Court decisions regarding abortion.

The current judicial interpretation of the U.S. Constitution regarding abortion in the United States, following the Supreme Court of the United States's 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, and subsequent companion decisions, is that abortion is legal but may be restricted by the states to varying degrees. States have passed laws to restrict late term abortions, require parental notification for minors, and mandate the disclosure of abortion risk information to patients prior to the procedure.[26]

The key, deliberated article of the U.S. Constitution is the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that

The official report of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, issued in 1983 after extensive hearings on the Human Life Amendment (proposed by Senators Orrin Hatch and Thomas Eagleton), stated what substantially remains true today:

One aspect of the legal abortion regime now in place has been determining when the fetus is "viable" outside the womb as a measure of when the "life" of the fetus is its own (and therefore subject to being protected by the state). In the majority opinion delivered by the court in Roe v. Wade, viability was defined as "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks." When the court ruled in 1973, the then-current medical technology suggested that viability could occur as early as 24 weeks. Advances over the past three decades have allowed fetuses that are a few weeks less than 24 weeks old to survive outside the mother's womb. These scientific achievements, while life-saving for premature babies, have made the determination of being "viable" somewhat more complicated.

As of 2006, the youngest child to survive a premature birth in the United States was a girl born at Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii at 21 weeks and 3 days gestation gestational age.[29] Because of the split between federal and state law, legal access to abortion continues to vary somewhat by state. Geographic availability, however, varies dramatically, with 87 percent of U.S. counties having no abortion provider.[30] Moreover, due to the Hyde Amendment, many state health programs do not cover abortions; currently 17 states (including California, Illinois and New York) offer or require such coverage.[31]

The legality of abortion in the United States is frequently a major issue in nomination battles for the U.S. Supreme Court. However, nominees typically remain silent on the issue during their hearings, because it is an issue that may come before them as judges.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, commonly known as "Laci and Conner's Law" was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush on April 1, 2004, allowing two charges to be filed against someone who kills a pregnant mother (one for the mother and one for the fetus). It specifically bans charges against the mother and/or doctor relating to abortion procedures. Nevertheless, it has generated much controversy among pro-choice advocates. They view it as a potential step in the direction of banning abortion.

State-by-state legal status[edit]

The Guttmacher Institute found that state restrictions on abortion greatly increased in 2011.
This map demonstrate an increase in abortion restrictions and a simultaneous decrease in abortion access in the US in 2013. An index of abortion access was created using the supply of abortion providers, TRAP laws, gestational restrictions, and parental notification laws to measure abortion access in the US.

Various states have laws on abortion, some of which refer to as feticide. On March 6, 2006, South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds signed into law a pro-life statute which made performing abortions a felony, and that law was subsequently repealed in a November 7, 2006 referendum.[32] On February 27, 2006, Mississippi’s House Public Health Committee voted to approve a ban on abortion, and that bill died after the House and Senate failed to agree on compromise legislation.[33] Several states have enacted "trigger laws" which "would take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned."[34] North Dakota HB 1572 or the Personhood of Children Act, which passed the North Dakota House of Representatives on February 18, 2009, but was later defeated in the North Dakota Senate, aimed to allocate rights to "the pre-born, partially born", and if passed, would likely have been used to challenge Roe v. Wade.[35] On February 15, 2012, the Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill 1 in a vote of 66-32, that effectively outlaws all Virginia abortions by declaring that the rights of persons apply from the moment sperm and egg unite. It also passed a second bill in a 63-36 vote, that requires women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before undergoing abortions.[36]

In addition, some states have sought to ban abortion by means of an amendment to the state constitution, three of which have already reached the ballot for a vote. Colorado citizens voted on Amendment 48 on November 4, 2008, and it failed to pass, with 73.21% voting against it and 26.79% voting for it.[37] A similar initiative, Amendment 62, made the Colorado ballot on November 2, 2010, where it failed again, this time 70.53% to 29.47%.[38] On November 8, 2011, Initiative 26, a "personhood" measure that would have banned all abortions and some forms of contraception, was defeated on the Mississippi ballot, 57.87% voting "no" to 42.13%.[39][40] All three of these amendments made it to the ballot through a citizen initiative process, as opposed to being referred to the ballot by their state legislatures.

These amendments, dubbed “personhood amendments,” have so far contained far-reaching language that go beyond simply banning abortion. They define personhood as beginning from the moment of conception and/or fertilization, which would potentially outlaw forms of birth control, in addition to potentially banning in-vitro fertilization. The umbrella organization Personhood USA, based in Colorado and co-founded by Cal Zastrow and Keith Mason,[41] was responsible for getting Amendments 48 and 62 onto the ballot in Colorado.[42] They plan to get another amendment onto the ballot in 2012, this time with slightly revised wording composed by legal analyst Gualberto Garcia Jones. Personhood USA also plans on pushing for such amendments in Montana and Oregon.[43]

Other states are considering personhood amendments banning abortion, some through legislative methods and others through citizen initiative campaigns. Among these states are Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, and Arkansas.[44][45][46]

Qualifying requirements for abortion providers[edit]

Qualifying requirements for performing abortions vary from state to state.[47] Currently, California, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and New Hampshire allow qualified non-physician health professionals, such as physicians' assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives, to do first-trimester aspiration abortions, and to prescribe drugs for medical abortions. Additionally, Washington State, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey allow qualified non-physicians to prescribe drugs for medical abortions only. In all other states, only licensed physicians may perform abortions.[48]


Because reporting of abortions is not mandatory, statistics are of varying reliability. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC)[49] regularly compiles these statistics.

Chart source: CDC, 2005

Number of abortions in United States[edit]

The annual number of legal induced abortions in the United States doubled between 1973 and 1979, and peaked in 1990. There was a slow but steady decline through the 1990s. Overall, the number of annual abortions decreased by 6% between 2000 and 2009, with temporary spikes in 2002 and 2006.[50]

According to the Guttmacher Institute, since 1973, roughly 50 million legal induced abortions have been performed in the United States.[51]

By 2011, abortion rate in the United States dropped to its lowest point since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure. According to a study performed by Guttmacher Institute, long-acting contraceptive methods were having a significant impact in reducing unwanted pregnancies. There were fewer than 17 abortions for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age. That was a 13 percent decrease from 2008's numbers and slightly higher than the rate in 1973, when the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. The study indicated a long-term decline in the abortion rate. The rate has dropped significantly from its all-time high in 1981, when there were roughly 30 abortions for every 1,000 women of reproductive age. The overall number of abortions also fell 13 percent from 2008 to nearly 1.1 million in 2011." In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported a decline in abortion rates.[52][53][54][55]

In 2012, according to a report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in New York City there were more black fetuses aborted (31,328) than were born (24,758). There was a total of 73,815 abortions in 2012 in New York City; 42.4% were of black descent.[56][57][58][59]

According to the data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 39,052 African American babies and 14,529 white fetuses were aborted in Mississippi between 1995 and 2010. 71.67% of the fetuses aborted in Mississippi were black and 26.6% were white. The total number of abortions (from all races) in Mississippi from 1995 to 2010 was 54,484. Whites outnumber African Americans in Mississippi 1.6-to-1.[60]

Medical abortions[edit]

A Guttmacher Institute survey of abortion providers estimated that early medical abortions accounted for 17% of all nonhospital abortions and slightly over one-quarter of abortions before 9 weeks gestation in the United States in 2008.[61] Medical abortions voluntarily reported to the CDC by 34 reporting areas (excluding Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) and published in its annual abortion surveillance reports have increased every year since the September 28, 2000 FDA approval of mifepristone (RU-486): 1.0% in 2000, 2.9% in 2001, 5.2% in 2002, 7.9% in 2003, 9.3% in 2004, 9.9% in 2005, 10.6% in 2006, 13.1% in 2007, 15.8% in 2008, 17.1% in 2009 (25.2% of those at less than 9 weeks gestation).[62] Medical abortions accounted for 32% of first trimester abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States in 2008.[63]

Abortions and ethnicity[edit]

Abortion rates are much more common among women in the U.S. In 2000-2001, the rates among black and Hispanic women were 49 per 1,000 and 33 per 1,000, respectively, vs. 13 per 1,000 among non-Hispanic white women. Note that this figure includes all women of reproductive age, including women that are not pregnant. In other words, these abortion rates reflect the rate at which U.S. women of reproductive age have an abortion each year.[64] While White women obtain 60% of all abortions, African American women are three times more likely to have an abortion.[65]

In 2004, the rates of abortion by ethnicity in the U.S. were 50 abortions per 1,000 black women, 28 abortions per 1,000 Hispanic women, and 11 abortions per 1,000 white women.[66]

Reasons for abortions[edit]

Another study, in 1998, revealed that in 1987-1988 women reported the following as their primary reasons for choosing an abortion:[67][68] The source of this information, takes findings into account from 27 nations including the United States, and therefore these findings may not be typical for any one nation.

According to a 1987 study that included specific data about late abortions (i.e. abortions “at 16 or more weeks' gestation”),[69] women reported that various reasons contributed to their having a late abortion:

In 2000, cases of rape or incest accounted for 1% of abortions.[70]

A 2004 study by the Guttmacher Institute reported that women listed the following amongst their reasons for choosing to have an abortion:[68]

A 2008 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) shows that rates of unintended pregnancy are highest among Blacks, Hispanics, and women with lower SES.[71]

When women have abortions (by gestational age)[edit]

Abortion in the United States by gestational age, 2004. (Data source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Maternal death[edit]

By US statistics risk of maternal death by abortion is lower than childbirth through at least 21 weeks' gestation.[72][73]

Public opinion[edit]

Leading up to the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in January 2013, a majority of Americans believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.[74] As well, approximately 70% of respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this question since 1989.[74] A poll by the Pew Research Center yielded similar results.[75] Moreover, 48% of Republicans opposed overturning Roe, compared to 46% who supported overturning it.[75]

Gallup notes that abortion attitudes are shifting. Gallup declared in May 2010 that more Americans identifying as "pro-life" is "the new normal", while also noting that there had been no increase in opposition to abortion. It suggested that political polarization may have prompted more Republicans to call themselves "pro-life".[76] The terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" do not always reflect a political view or fall along a binary; in one Public Religion Research Institute poll, seven in ten Americans described themselves as "pro-choice" while almost two-thirds described themselves as "pro-life". The same poll found that 56% of Americans were in favor of legal access to abortion in all or some cases.[77]

Date of pollPro-lifePro-choiceMixed / neitherDon't know what terms meanNo opinion
2011, May 5–845%49%3%2%2%
2010, March 26–2846%45%4%2%3%
2009, November 20–2245%48%2%2%3%
2009, May 7–1051%42%-07%
2008, September 5–743%51%2%1%3%

By gender, age, party, and region[edit]

Pew Research Center polling shows little change in views from 2008 to 2012; modest differences based on gender or age.[78]
(The original article's table also shows by party affiliation, religion, and education level.)

LegalIllegalDon't KnowLegalIllegalDon't KnowLegalIllegalDon't Know

A January 2003 CBS News/New York Times poll examined whether Americans thought abortion should be legal or not, and found variations in opinion which depended upon party affiliation and the region of the country.[79] The margin of error is +/- 4% for questions answered of the entire sample ("overall" figures) and may be higher for questions asked of subgroups (all other figures).[79]

GroupGenerally availableAvailable, but with stricter limits than nowNot permitted

By trimester of pregnancy[edit]

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in January 2003 asked about the legality of abortion by trimester, using the question, "Do you think abortion should generally be legal or generally illegal during each of the following stages of pregnancy?" [80] This same question was also asked by Gallup in March 2000 and July 1996.[81][82] Polls indicates general support of abortion during the first trimester although support drops dramatically for abortion during the second and third trimester.

2011 Poll2003 Poll2000 Poll1996 Poll
First trimester62%29%66%35%66%31%64%30%
Second trimester24%71%25%68%24%69%26%65%
Third trimester10%86%10%84%8%86%13%82%

By circumstance or reasons[edit]

According to Gallup's long-time polling on abortion, the majority of Americans are neither strictly Pro-Life or Pro-Choice; it depends upon circumstances. Gallup polling from 1996 to 2009 consistently reveals that when asked the question, "Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?", Americans repeatedly answer 'legal only under certain circumstances'. According to the poll, in any given year 48-57% say legal only under certain circumstances (for 2009, 57%), 21-34% say legal under any circumstances (for 2009, 21%), and 13-19% illegal in all circumstances (for 2009, 18%), with 1-7% having no opinion (for 2009, 4%).[81]

"Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?"

Legal under any circumstancesLegal only under certain/few circumstancesIllegal in all circumstancesNo opinion
2011 May 5–827%49%22%3%
2009 Jul 17-1921%57%18%4%
2009 May 7–1022%53%23%2%
2008 May 8–1128%54%18%2%
2007 May 10–1326%55%17%1%
2006 May 8–1130%53%15%2%

According to the aforementioned poll,[81] Americans differ drastically based upon situation of the pregnancy, suggesting they do not support unconditional abortions. Based on two separate polls taken May 19–21, 2003, of 505 and 509 respondents respectively, Americans stated their approval for abortion under these various circumstances:

Poll CriteriaTotalPoll APoll B
When the woman's life is endangered78%82%75%
When the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest65%72%59%
When the child would be born with a life-threatening illness54%60%48%
When the child would be born mentally disabled44%50%38%
When the woman does not want the child for any reason32%41%24%

Another separate trio of polls taken by Gallup in 2003, 2000, and 1996,[81] revealed public support for abortion as follows for the given criteria:

Poll criteria2003 Poll2000 Poll1996 Poll
When the woman's life is endangered85%84%88%
When the woman's physical health is endangered77%81%82%
When the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest76%78%77%
When the woman's mental health is endangered63%64%66%
When there is evidence that the baby may be physically impaired56%53%53%
When there is evidence that the baby may be mentally impaired55%53%54%
When the woman or family cannot afford to raise the child35%34%32%

Gallup furthermore established public support for many issues supported by the Pro-Life community and opposed by the Pro-Choice community:[81]

Legislation2003 Poll2000 Poll1996 Poll
A law requiring doctors to inform patients about alternatives to abortion before performing the procedure88%86%86%
A law requiring women seeking abortions to wait 24 hours before having the procedure done78%74%73%
Legislation2005 Poll2003 Poll1996 Poll1992 Poll
A law requiring women under 18 to get parental consent for any abortion69%73%74%70%
A law requiring that the husband of a married woman be notified if she decides to have an abortion64%72%70%73%

An October 2007 CBS News poll explored under what circumstances Americans believe abortion should be allowed, asking the question, "What is your personal feeling about abortion?" The results were as follows:[80]

Permitted in all casesPermitted, but subject to greater restrictions than it is nowOnly in cases such as rape, incest, or to save the woman's lifeOnly permitted to save the woman's lifeNeverUnsure

Additional polls[edit]

Results of Gallup opinion poll in USA since 1975 - legal restriction of abortion[83]

Partial birth abortion[edit]

Partial-Birth abortion is a non-medical term for a procedure called intact dilation and extraction used by those who oppose the procedure. A Rasmussen Reports poll four days after the Supreme Court's opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart found that 40% of respondents "knew the ruling allowed states to place some restrictions on specific abortion procedures." Of those who knew of the decision, 56% agreed with the decision and 32% were opposed.[90] An ABC poll from 2003 found that 62% of respondents thought partial-birth abortion should be illegal; a similar number of respondents wanted an exception "if it would prevent a serious threat to the woman's health." Additional polls from 2003 found between 47–70% in favor of banning this type of abortion and between 25–40% opposed.[91]

Gallup has repeatedly queried the American public on this issue, as seen on its Abortion page:[81]

A law which would make it illegal to perform a specific abortion procedure conducted in the last six months (or second and/or third trimester) of pregnancy known by some opponents as a partial birth abortion, except in cases necessary to save the life of the mother70%63%66%64%61%61%55%57%

Abortion financing[edit]

State Medicaid coverage of medically necessary abortion services.
Navy blue: Medicaid covers medically necessary abortion for low-income women through legislation
Royal blue: Medicaid covers medically necessary abortions for low-income women under court order
Gray: Medicaid denies abortion coverage for low-income women except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

The abortion debate has also been extended to the question of who pays the medical costs of the procedure, with some states using the mechanism as a way of reducing the number of abortions. The cost of an abortion varies depending on factors such as location, facility, timing, and type of procedure. In 2005, a nonhospital abortion at 10 weeks’ gestation ranged from $90 to $1,800 (average: $430), whereas an abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation ranged from $350 to $4,520 (average: $1,260). Costs are higher for a medical abortion than a first-trimester surgical abortion.[92]


The Hyde Amendment is a federal legislative provision barring the use of federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions except for rape and incest.[93] The provision, in various forms, was in response to Roe v. Wade, and has been routinely attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976, and represented the first major legislative success by the pro-life movement. The law requires that states cover abortions under Medicaid in the event of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Based on the federal law:

Private insurance[edit]

Positions of U.S. political parties[edit]

Though members of both major political parties come down on either side of the issue, the Republican Party is often seen as being pro-life, since the official party platform opposes abortion and considers unborn children to have an inherent right to life. Republicans for Choice represents the minority of that party. In 2006 pollsters found that 9% of Republicans favor the availability of abortion in most circumstances.[96] Of Republican National Convention delegates in 2004, 13% believed that abortion should be generally available, and 38% believed that it should not be permitted. The same poll showed that 17% of all Republican voters believed that abortion should be generally available to those who want it, while 38% believed that it should not be permitted.[97]

The Democratic Party platform considers abortion to be a woman's right. Democrats for Life of America represents the minority of that party. In 2006 pollsters found that 74% of Democrats favor the availability of abortion in most circumstances.[96] However, a Zogby International poll in 2004 found that 43% of all Democrats believed that abortion "destroys a human life and is manslaughter."[98] Of Democratic National Convention delegates in 2004, 75% believed that abortion should be generally available, and 2% believed that abortion should not be permitted. The same poll showed that 49% of all Democratic voters believed that abortion should be generally available to those who want it, while 13% believed that it should not be permitted.[99]

The U.S. Green Party supports abortion as a woman's right.

The U.S. Libertarian Party takes no position on abortion, but the Party opposes any government funding of abortion.

In the United States the abortion issue has become deeply politicized: in 2002, 84% of state Democratic platforms supported the right to having an abortion while 88% of state Republican platforms opposed it. This divergence also led to Christian Right organizations like Christian Voice, Christian Coalition and Moral Majority having an increasingly strong role in the Republican Party. This opposition has been extended under the Foreign Assistance Act: in 1973 Jesse Helms introduced an amendment banning the use of aid money to promote abortion overseas, and in 1984 the Mexico City Policy prohibited financial support to any overseas organization that performed or promoted abortions. The "Mexico City Policy" was revoked by President Bill Clinton and subsequently reinstated by President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama overruled this policy by Executive Order on January 23, 2009.[100]

The official platforms of the major political parties in the US are as follows:

The U.S. Republican Party[edit]

The U.S. Democratic Party[edit]

Effects of legalization[edit]

The risk of death due to legal abortion has fallen considerably since legalization in 1973, due to increased physician skills, improved medical technology, and earlier termination of pregnancy.[111] From 1940 through 1970, deaths of pregnant women during abortion fell from nearly 1,500 to a little over 100.[111] According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of women who died in 1972 from illegal abortion was thirty-nine (39).[112] In 1960, Dr. Mary Calderone, a former director of Planned Parenthood, said:

The Roe effect is an hypothesis which suggests that since supporters of abortion rights cause the erosion of their own political base by having fewer children, the practice of abortion will eventually lead to the restriction or illegalization of abortion. The legalized abortion and crime effect is another controversial theory that posits legal abortion reduces crime, because unwanted children are more likely to become criminals.

Since Roe v Wade, there have been numerous attempts to reverse the decision. In the 2011 election season, Mississippi placed an amendment on the ballot that redefine how the state viewed abortion. The personhood amendment defined personhood as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof". If passed, it would have been illegal to get an abortion in the state.[114]

On July 11, 2012, a Mississippi federal judge ordered an extension of his temporary order to allow the state's only abortion clinic to stay open. The order will stay in place until U.S. District Judge Daniel Porter Jordan III can review newly drafted rules on how the Mississippi Department of Health will administer a new abortion law. The law in question came into effect on July 1.[115]

See also[edit]

Notable cases

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 154 (1973) "We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified, and must be considered against important state interests in regulation."
  2. ^ Saad, Lydia (August 8, 2011). "Plenty of Common Ground Found in Abortion Debate". Gallup.com. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  3. ^ a b "Abortion | Gallup Historical Trends". Gallup.com. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  4. ^ According to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade:
    "(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.
    "(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.
    "(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."
    Likewise, Black's Law Dictionary defines abortion as "knowing destruction" or "intentional expulsion or removal."
  5. ^ James Wilson, "Of the Natural Rights of Individuals" (1790-1792). Also see William Blackstone, Commentaries (1765): "Life ...begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother's womb."
  6. ^ Alford, Suzanne M. (2003). "Is Self-Abortion a Fundamental Right?". Duke Law Journal 52 (5): 1011–29. JSTOR 1373127. PMID 12964572. 
  7. ^ Hartmann, B (1997). "Population control I: Birth of an ideology.". International journal of health services : planning, administration, evaluation 27 (3): 523–40. doi:10.2190/bl3n-xajx-0yqb-vqbx. PMID 9285280. 
  8. ^ Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Abortion History: A History of Abortion in the United States". Women's History section of About.com. About.com. Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  9. ^ https://archive.org/stream/anthonycomstockh00bennuoft#page/1017/mode/1up Anthony Comstock: His Career of Cruelty and Crime A Chapter from "Champions of the Church". DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett. 1878.
  10. ^ Kevles, Daniel J. (July 22, 2001). "The Secret History of Birth Control". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  11. ^ Kathryn Cullen-DuPont (1 August 2000). Encyclopedia of women's history in America. Infobase Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-8160-4100-8. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  12. ^ Boyer, Paul S., ed. (2006). The Oxford companion to United States history. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-19-508209-8. 
  13. ^ Johnson, Linnea. "Something Real: Jane and Me. Memories and Exhortations of a Feminist Ex-Abortionist". CWLU Herstory Project. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  14. ^ "Medicine: Abortion on Request". Time. March 9, 1970. Retrieved 2012-10-15.  (subscription required)
  15. ^ Kliff, Sarah (January 22, 2013). "CHARTS: How Roe v. Wade changed abortion rights". The Washington Post. 
  16. ^ Cassidy, Keith (1995). "The Right to Life Movement". In Donald T. Critchlow. The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective. Issues in Policy History. Penn State Press. p. 140. ISBN 9780271015705. 
  17. ^ Staggenborg, Suzanne (1994). The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the Abortion Conflict. Oxford University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780195089257. 
  18. ^ National Women's Health Network | A Voice For Women, A Network For Change
  19. ^ Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1972). Findlaw.com. Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  20. ^ An Interview with Norma McCorvey. Ann Scheidler, Chicago Pro-life Action League. April 20, 1996.
  21. ^ Affidavit of Sandra Cano. January 2, 2005.
  22. ^ Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 878 (1992), "(b) We reject the rigid trimester framework of Roe v. Wade. To promote the State's profound interest in potential life, throughout pregnancy the State may take measures to ensure that the woman's choice is informed, and measures designed to advance this interest will not be invalidated as long as their purpose is to persuade the woman to choose childbirth over abortion. These measures must not be an undue burden on the right."
  23. ^ Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 878 (1992), "(a) To protect the central right recognized by Roe v. Wade while at the same time accommodating the State's profound interest in potential life, we will employ the undue burden analysis as explained in this opinion. An undue burden exists, and therefore a provision of law is invalid, if its purpose or effect is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability."
  24. ^ Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 846 (1992)
  25. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (April 19, 2007). "Justices Back Ban on Method of Abortion". New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  26. ^ Interactive maps comparing U.S. abortion restrictions by state, LawServer
  27. ^ "The Constitution of the United States of America: As Amended". 2007-07-25. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  28. ^ Report, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, on Senate Joint Resolution 3, 98th Congress, 98-149, June 7, 1983, p. 6.
  29. ^ Baptist Hospital of Miami, Fact Sheet at the Wayback Machine (archived March 26, 2009). (archived from the original on 2009-03-26)
  30. ^ "Access to Abortion" (PDF). National Abortion Federation. 2003. Archived from the original on 19 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-17. 
  31. ^ ""Public Funding for Abortion" (map)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  32. ^ Myers, Megan. "S.D. rejects abortion ban", Argus Leader, (2006-11-08). Retrieved 2007-01-23.
  33. ^ MacIntyre, Krystal. "Mississippi abortion ban bill fails as legislators miss deadline for compromise", Jurist News Archive (2006-03-28). Retrieved 2007-01-23.
  34. ^ Alford, Jeremy. "Louisiana Governor Plans To Sign Anti-Abortion Law". New York Times. Section A; Column 3; National Desk; Pg. 18 June 7, 2006. Retrieved December 23, 2007. Quote: "Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's office said Tuesday that she would shortly sign into law a strict ban on abortion that would permit abortion only in the case where a woman's life was threatened by pregnancy. The bill, approved by both houses of the Legislature and sent to the governor on Monday, would go into effect only if the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade ...Eleven other states are considering similar measures. Six other states have bans, similar to the Louisiana bill, that would be put into effect by the end of Roe."
  35. ^ "US state's 'personhood' law would hit birth control: opponents" 2009-02-18 AFP
  36. ^ Lewis, Bob. The Associated Press, "Va. House GOP muscles through abortion curbs," Feb 15, 2012.
  37. ^ Denver Post, "Amendment 48—Definition of a Person Election Results," 2008.
  38. ^ Colorado Secretary of State, "Colorado Cumulative Report," Nov 2, 2010.[dead link]
  39. ^ Associated Press, "Mississippi County Vote Results," Nov 9, 2011.
  40. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (Nov 8, 2011). "Mississippi Voters Reject Anti-Abortion Measure". New York Times. Retrieved Oct 8, 2013. 
  41. ^ Pro-Life Profiles, [1] Retrieved 2014-11-02.
  42. ^ Armstrong, Ari and Diana Hsieh. "The ‘Personhood’ Movement is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception," August 31, 2010.
  43. ^ Huffington Post, "Personhood USA, Colorado-Based Anti-Choice Group, Announces 3rd Try at Colo. Personhood Amendment," Nov 21, 2011.
  44. ^ Think Progress Health, "Personhood May Appear on Arkansas Ballot," Nov 3, 2011.
  45. ^ Samuel, Stephanie. The Christian Post, "DNC Chair: Personhood Amendment is ‘Extreme and Radical’," Nov 4, 2011.
  46. ^ GPB News, "Georgia Has ‘Personhood’ Bills," Nov 18, 2011.
  47. ^ http://www.ansirh.org/research/pci/access.php
  48. ^ Technically, Colorado, Kansas, and West Virginia do not have laws forbidding non-physicians from doing abortions, but liability issues effectively prevent non-physicians from doing them in these states.
  49. ^ "CDCs Abortion Surveillance System FAQs". Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2012-11-21. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  50. ^ D. Elam-Evans, Ph.D., Laurie. "Abortion Surveillance --- United States, 2000". Center for Disease Control. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  51. ^ "Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States". Guttmacher Institute. July 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  52. ^ Somashekhar, Sandhya (2 February 2014). "Study: Abortion rate at lowest point since 1973". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  53. ^ Moon, Angela (2 February 2014). "U.S. abortion rate hits lowest level since 1973: study". Reuters. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  54. ^ Bassett, Laura (2 February 2014). "U.S. Abortion Rate Hits Lowest Point Since 1973". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  55. ^ Jayson, Sharon (2 February 2014). "Abortion rate at lowest level since 1973". USA Today. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  56. ^ Chapman, Michael (20 February 2014). "NYC: More Black Babies Killed by Abortion Than Born". CNS News. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  57. ^ O'Brien, Cortney (21 February 2014). "Horror: More African-American Babies Aborted in NYC Than Born". Town Hall. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  58. ^ Kandra, Greg (21 February 2014). "Shock: more black babies in NYC killed by abortion than born". Patheos. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  59. ^ Ertelt, Steven (21 February 2014). "More Black Babies Die in Abortions in New York City Than Given Birth". Life News. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  60. ^ Chapman, Michael (25 February 2014). "In Mississippi, 72% of the Babies Aborted Are Black". Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  61. ^ Jones, Rachel K.; Kooistra, Kathryn (March 2011). "Abortion incidence and access to services in the United States, 2008". Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43 (1): 41–50. doi:10.1363/4304111. PMID 21388504.  94% of nonhospital medical abortions used mifepristone and misoprostol—6% used methotrexate and misoprostol—in the United States in 2008.
  62. ^ Pazol, Karen; Creanga, Andreea A.; Zane, Suzanne B.; Burley, Kim D.; Jamieson, Denise J; Division of Reproductive Health (November 23, 2012). "Abortion surveillance – United States, 2009". MMWR Surveillance Summaries 61 (8): 1–44. PMID 21346710. 
  63. ^ Fjerstad, Mary; Trussell, James; Sivin, Irving; Lichtenberg, E. Steve; Cullins, Vanessa (July 9, 2009). "Rates of serious infection after changes in regimens for medical abortion". New England Journal of Medicine 361 (2): 145–151. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0809146. PMC 3568698. PMID 19587339. 
  64. ^ Guttmacher.org Get "In the Know": Questions About Pregnancy, Contraception and Abortion at the Wayback Machine (archived March 11, 2008)
  65. ^ The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform[dead link]
  66. ^ Abortion Rate Falls, But Not Equally for All Women, Time magazine, September 23, 2008
  67. ^ Bankole, Akinrinola; Singh, Susheela; Haas, Taylor (1998). "Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries". International Family Planning Perspectives 24 (3): 117–27, 152. doi:10.2307/3038208. JSTOR 3038208. 
  68. ^ a b Finer, Lawrence B.; Frohwirth, Lori F.; Dauphinee, Lindsay A.; Singh, Susheela; Moore, Ann M. (September 2005). "Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives". Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37 (3): 110–8. doi:10.1111/j.1931-2393.2005.tb00045.x. JSTOR 3650599. PMID 16150658. 
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  70. ^ "Induced Abortion Facts in Brief" (2002) (13,000 out of 1.31 million abortions in 2000 were on account of rape or incest). Retrieved via InfoPlease 2007-01-07. Adapted from "Alan Guttmacher Institute, Induced Abortion, Facts in Brief, 2002". Facts in Brief from Guttmacher Institute does not include the 13 000 statistic though, nor does the 2003 version.
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External links[edit]