Why Women Choose Abortion

The 2004 Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) Report in New Zealand gave the following grounds on which authorisation was given for abortions in 2003:

Grounds   Total %
Serious danger to life 11   0.1
Serious danger to physical health            13 0.1
Serious danger to mental health  18,279 98.7
Combination of serious danger to physical and mental health   75 0.4
Combination of serious danger to life and mental health   4 0.0
Substantial risk of physically or mentally abnormal seriously handicapped child  123 0.7
Incest and serious danger to mental health - -
Offence under s.131 Crimes Act 1961 and serious danger to mental health 
6 0.0
TOTAL 18,511 100

Abortion for socio/economic reasons is illegal in New Zealand, yet it is commonly recognised that there exists abortion on demand. These 'social' abortions are listed among the 98 - 99% of abortions performed due to 'serious danger to mental health.'

While there may be multiple reasons for a woman choosing abortion, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (the research wing of Planned Parenthood), women choose abortion for the following reasons:

Percentage Reason
76% Woman is unready for how a baby could change her life

a) a baby would interfere with her employment             67%

b) a baby would interfere with her school attendance      49%

c) other children or other people already need her care   28%

68% Woman cannot afford a baby now 
52% Woman has problems with relationship or wants to avoid single parenthood
31% Woman is not ready for responsibility
31% Woman does not want others to know she has had sex or is pregnant
30% Woman is not mature enough or is too young to have a child
26% Woman has all the chilren she wants or grown-up children
23% Woman's husband or partner wants her to have an abortion
13% Fetus has possible health problem
6% Woman has health problem
6% Woman's parents want her to have an abortion
1% Woman was victim of rape or incest

(Source: Family Planning Perspectives, July/August 1988)

The reasons women give for aborting are, for the most part, social or economic. The vast majority of women named interference with employment or school, being unable to afford a baby, or pressure from others as a reason for choosing abortion.

Most women it would appear, choose abortion because they feel they have no other choice.

It's legal so it must be 'all right'
Another influence for women choosing abortion is the law. When women were asked, "Did the knowledge that abortion is legal influence your opinion about the morality of choosing abortion?," 70% said the law played a major role in their moral perception.

David Reardon of the Elliott Institute concluded that "while most aborting women have a negative moral view of abortion, they find comfort and grounds for rationalization in the socio-legal view of abortion (i.e., that abortion is largely accepted both in society and in law). Some even doubt their own moral values, thinking, ?If it's legal, then it must be all right'"

Why women choose abortion
Many women choose abortion when abortion is available and they are faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood website lists a number of reasons why unwanted pregnancies may occur:
  1. lack of access to family planning information and supplies because of political or economic circumstances
  2. pressure from a sexual partner to not use contraceptives
  3. contraceptive failure
These may be valid reasons for some unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, but in each scenario it implies that the circumstances were outside the woman's ability to control. It is worth taking a look at these reasons to see if they are in fact valid.

(1) lack of access to family planning information and supplies - A scientific method of natural fertility regulation  has beent trialed in both developed and developing countries, with high reliability, effectiveness and satisfaction with the method. In 1995 the Australian government funded a 3-year project in Anhui Province in China. Initially, 1,871 core-teachers were trained, who have since been responsible for training 48,449 Chinese teachers. 

The method is being used by more than 3,645,600 fertile couples in China for avoiding pregnancy. The overall success rate is around 99% and the method is one of the principle choices of fertility regulation in China. These are statistics measured up to 31 December, 2003. More on this can be found here.

(2) pressure from a sexual partner to not use contraceptives - If a woman is in a relationship with a man who ignores her wishes in something as important and intimate as sexual intercourse, ready access to abortion is not going to help her. When a partner is not accepting responsibility for the avoidance of a pregnancy, he is not considering the woman's feelings. 

(3) contraceptive failure - all birth control methods, except sterilisation and total abstinence, have a failure rate. Using abortion as a back-up for failed birth control does not encourage a woman to be careful and may lead to a woman engaging in other risky sexual practices.

When looking at the effectiveness of contraceptives in preventing pregnancy there are two measurements. Method effectiveness, which measures the number of times pregnancy occurs when the method is used exactly the way it is supposed to be used, and user effectiveness. If a woman is casual or negligent about using a method effectively (e.g. missing a pill or two each cycle), this is user effectiveness.

Teenagers particularly, are unreliable about using contraceptives.

One study reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal (21 Nov. 2003, Vol. 116 No. 1186) found that, while 93% of adolescent girls chose a "reliable form of contraceptive" after their abortions, only 28% reported using contraceptives at a follow-up visit within the following year. (Hewell SW, Andrews JL, Contraceptive use among female adolescents. Clin Nurs Res 1996; 5: 356-63)

Real Choices
Journalist and author Frederica Mathewes-Green spent a year researching the reasons women have abortions. She proposed that if we could learn why women get abortions, we could more easily reduce what amounts to consumer demand.

Mathewes-Green contacted hundreds of crisis pregnancy centres, studied case histories, and talked to women across the United States about their decisions to have abortions. 

In her book Real Women, Real Choices she writes that what she discovered was that many women aren't having abortions because they are poor, or because a child would interfere with school or career plans... but because the men in their lives tell them to do so. 

Abortion advocates say that women are having abortions because it is their choice, and in some cases it may well be. It is quite likely that women who have made their own decision to abort their pregnancy do so without any outside pressure or coercion.

But the women Mathewes-Green interviewed talked about coercion. They spoke of being threatened with loss of affection and support by the most important people in their lives - boyfriends, husbands, parents. She found that even a poor women is likely to continue her pregnancy if the baby's father loves and supports her. But even a financially secure married woman is likely to abort if her husband demands it of her.

In fact, 88 percent of the women interviewed said their trip to the abortion clinic was a capitulation, not a choice at all. They didn't feel empowered; they felt isolated, overwhelmed, and sad.

French feminist Simone de Beauvoir recognized this phenomenon as long ago as 1952 when she wrote: "It is often the seducer himself who convinces the woman that she must rid herself of the child."

What women want
No-one can really believe that women actually want abortion. Mathewes-Green puts it this way:

"No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg. Abortion is a tragic attempt to escape a desperate situation by an act of violence and self-loss." 

She says, "The procedure itself is physically unpleasant, humiliating, and often painful.

"Beyond that, the procedure does not heal a physical problem but subverts a healthy, normal process. We get confused by the fact that doctors perform it; usually doctors are called in when a natural process goes wrong. But just as our bodies are made to breathe and digest food, women's bodies are designed to sustain a pregnancy and deliver a baby. It is a delicately balanced ecology, and when something disrupts it as violently as abortion does, it is not surprising that damage can result."

Apart from preventing unplanned pregnancies in the first place, women need support when they become pregnant. The support may include material things such as housing, financial help, childcare etc., but often the thind a woman most needs is someone to support her with friendship. Someone who can work with her to deal with her family relationships.

Mathewes-Green also says that, for single mothers, marriage should not be discounted as an option. She would like to see men being encouraged to accept the responsibility of faatherhood and cites a study of teenagers who married to legitimise a pregnancy. It appears that 50 - 75% (depending on race) of the marriages were still intact 10 years later.