What Percent of Abortions Are Medically Necessary?

The short answer to this question is “zero.”

Medical science has progressed to the point where an abortion is never necessary to preserve the life or the health of the mother. This has been true for more than half a century.

Abortions performed to preserve the life or the health of the mother are so rare that they do not register statistically, according to Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood, who did more to promote and spread abortion on demand throughout the world than any other individual. In 1967 he commented, “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal disease such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save the life.”1

Alan Guttmacher quote on the medical necessity of abortions

In any case where both the mother and child are ill, both should be treated, and every effort should be made to save both mother and child. The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) states that the term “abortion to save the life of the mother” is deliberately misleading terminology, and that no abortion saves the life of the mother; rather, one treats both patients. For instance, prematurely delivering the baby may be an option if the mother is gravely ill and AAPLOG acknowledges that, in some cases, the baby may be too premature to survive.


But How Common Are Such Conditions?

Naturally, the percentage of abortions allegedly performed to save the life or health of the mother will vary somewhat based on country, but we can see from the testimony of doctors and researchers that these cases are exceedingly rare. Even abortionists testify that if there is a medical emergency, the course of action is to deliver the baby prematurely, because to go through the stages required by a surgical abortion (laminaria, stretching the cervix, etc.) would cause more, not less danger to the mother.

As far back as 1981, former Surgeon General of the United States Dr. C. Everett Koop said “The fact of the matter is that abortion as a necessity to save the life of the mother is so rare as to be nonexistent.”2 He was backed up by reformed abortionist Bernard Nathanson, who said not long after, “The situation where the mother’s life is at stake were she to continue a pregnancy is no longer a clinical reality. Given the state of modern medicine, we can now manage any pregnant woman with any medical affliction successfully, to the natural conclusion of the pregnancy: The birth of a healthy child.”3

There are several conditions that pose a threat to the mother’s physical and mental health which may arise during pregnancy. These are often presented as ‘necessitating’ an abortion when they do not. As former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino has affirmed: “During my time at Albany Medical Center I managed hundreds of such cases by ‘terminating’ pregnancies to save mother’s lives. In all those cases, the number of unborn children that I had to deliberately kill was zero.”  Dr. Levatino in these cases “terminated” the pregnancies he managed by delivering the babies early.


The Problem with the Label “Medically Necessary”

The term “medically necessary” is nothing more than a ruse used by the abortion industry to justify abortions of convenience.

As we explained above, AAPLOG has said that the term “medically necessary” is deliberately misleading. In fact, pro-abortion legislators use this vague term to enact laws that allow abortion on demand. Studies by the Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the world’s leading pro-abortion research organization, show that only from one percent to three percent of all abortions are performed for medical reasons, while a whopping 96.5% are performed for economic and social (“convenience”) reasons.4 One point that this study by the AGI demonstrates is that “medical necessity” is not even considered by the vast majority of mothers who intend to abort.

Although not the primary goal of the study, it is clear from the data presented that more developed countries have far fewer claims that abortion is medically necessary (Kenya with 20% claiming this as the main reason and Finland with only o.6%). In fact, in the United States, abortions are performed most often for reasons of convenience such as finances or relationship status.

For more on how this abuse of terminology began and developed, visit Dr. Brian Clowes’ article “Shouldn’t We Permit Abortion Only to Save the Life of the Mother?”

We frequently see examples of this abuse of terminology in the rationalizations offered by those arguing in favor of abortion. As the Catholic News Agency reports, Professor Lucia A. Silecchia of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law has pointed out that “there is no requirement for a doctor to even consider whether or not there exists an alternative to abortion that could solve the medical crisis.” The language of the legal statutes clearly has been twisted to make abortion freely available for any reason.

Using “medical necessity” as legislative terminology allows lawmakers to craft bills that have large loopholes defining what such risk means. By tugging at our heartstrings with a purely emotional appeal, pro-abortionists argue that we cannot possibly refuse to “help” mothers. All over the world, pro-abortion organizations vastly inflate the numbers of abortions, create statistics on maternal mortality out of thin air, and basically use this as a means towards abortion on demand.5  Dr. Bernard Nathanson, abortionist turned pro-lifer and co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League, has described this tactic in detail.

We should expect that this percentage of life-threatening pregnancies will only decrease as modern medicine continues to make progress in saving mothers from these tragic complications. We should, therefore, be progressing towards policies that treat both mother and child, as has always been the ideal. Namely, we must provide all ordinary means of keeping both the mother and the child alive, and the scope of these ordinary means expands as medicine progresses. The key to handling these situations is simply to acknowledge the humanity of both the mother and of the child.

What to Do in the Rare Cases

Again, abortion to save the mother should never happen. Therefore, in the increasingly rare cases where continuing the pregnancy causes real and immediate danger to the mother, the baby ought to be removed in such a way that every effort is made to preserve its life outside of the womb. In such a case, both mother and baby are treated because their lives are of equal value. If the baby should die after a premature delivery, the physicians have done all they could to save his or her life. They have not deliberately killed the baby.

“Preemie” survival rates are improving constantly. Even if a delivery occurred at a time when the baby was likely not viable, the fundamental difference is still the intent behind the act. It is never morally permissible to intend an evil outcome, and the death of an unborn child is most certainly an evil outcome (more explanation of these moral principles here).


What About Mental Health?

There is substantial evidence from several sources, including the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and BMC Medicine, that abortions do not solve mental issues, and usually aggravate them, even when compared with the issues that sometimes develop in miscarriage cases and others. The research presented by the British Journal of Psychiatry concludes that long term mental health problems in the wake of induced abortions increase, and the probability of depression, anxiety, guilt, etc. goes up by 81% compared to mothers who carried their baby until birth. It is clear that mental health reasons worsen with abortion and compound the problem, rather than relieving such symptoms.

A handful of recent studies that allege that abortion is beneficial to the mental health of women invariably suffer from an extreme conflict of interest since they are usually either done by organizations that perform abortions themselves or aggressively advocate for them.6



The percentage of abortions that are performed out of “medical necessity” is a dynamic statistic, but in the United States, cases of true medical necessity are exceedingly rare or nonexistent. They are in no way a justification for abortion.

The rare cases when the mother and child cannot both be saved should not be called medically necessary abortions, because effort is made to preserve both the lives of child and mother. In these instances, the only way to save the mother is by delivering, not killing, the baby.



[1] Alan Guttmacher. “Abortion Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (Berkeley, California: Diablo Books), 1967, page 3.

[2] Everett Koop, M.D., former U.S. Surgeon General. “How Often is Abortion Necessary to ‘Save the Life of the Mother’?” October 19, 2012, at https://www.nrlc.org/archive/abortion/pba/HowOften AbortionNecessarySaveMother.pdf.

[3] Bernard Nathanson, M.D. Written statement to the Idaho House of Representatives’ State Affairs Committee, 16 February 1990. Also quoted in “Exceptions: Abandoning ‘The Least of These My Brethren.'” American Life League booklet, 1991, page 22.

[4] Sophia Chae, Sheila Desai, Marjorie Crowell, Gilda Sedgh. “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: A Synthesis of Findings from 14 Countries.” Contraception 96 (2017), pages 233 to 241. This study presented essentially the same results as a study performed by the Guttmacher Institute 20 years previously [Akinrinola Bankole, Susheela Singh, and Taylor Haas. “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries.” International Family Planning Perspectives. Guttmacher Institute. Volume 24, Number 3 (September 1998), pages 117 to 127 and 152].

[5] As one typical example, during my 2004 HLI mission trip to Trinidad and Tobago, the head of Planned Parenthood in that country stated at a public meeting that 350 women in T&T were killed by illegal abortions every year. I asked him after the presentation where this number came from. He replied that some months ago, there was a documented case of a woman dying of a botched abortion in Port of Spain. There are seven hospitals in T&T, he said. Therefore, seven hospitals times 52 weeks in a year was about 350 deaths due to illegal abortions every year.

[6] There are many examples of this kind of gross conflict of interest:

The Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health has a web page entitled “Abortions Do Not Harm Long-Term Mental Health.” The Bixby Center operates the Ryan Residency Training Program in Abortion and Contraceptives, which is by far the largest training center for abortionists in North America.

Ibis Reproductive Health claims that even late abortions cause no mental health problems whatsoever and, in fact, Ibis claims that post-abortion syndrome (PAS) does not exist and is mere fiction cooked up by “anti-choicers” to make women feel guilty. Ibis lobbies for the legalization of abortion in pro-life nations all around the world [https://www.ibisreproductivehealth.org/sites/default/files/files/publications/LAI_factsheet_Mental_health_Apr18.pdf].

Finally, one of the worst pro-abortion organizations in the world, Marie Stopes International, which has actually boasted about performing illegal abortions all over the world, flatly denies any connection between the death of a child by the deliberate choice of the mother and her subsequent depression or other mental health problems [https://www.mariestopes.org.au/your-choices/world-health-day-myth-depression-abortion/].


  1. John Fehsenfeld on May 30, 2019 at 1:44 PM

    Good article!

    • HLI Staff on May 30, 2019 at 4:11 PM

      Thanks for your feedback!

  2. Elisabeth on June 5, 2019 at 11:55 AM

    This is really good! I was always wondering if it was ok to prematurely deliver the baby and such, this really cleared up a lot of questions I had. Thank you!!!

  3. Annoyed by Pro-Life on June 28, 2019 at 4:41 PM

    So, gonna ignore ectopic pregnancy?

    • HLI Staff on July 25, 2019 at 9:22 AM

      Not at all. Ectopic pregnancy is a specific scenario by which if the baby developed, both mother and baby would die. In these cases, action must obviously be taken. One course of action that is probably the best is a so-called Salpingectomy (cutting the tube on both sides around the embryo). The key is that the human life cannot be destroyed; if the baby dies when treating the mother it is not the intention or primary course of action. The Church has not stated explicitly which procedure is the one best used in such cases.

      • Marcy on August 11, 2020 at 8:56 PM

        What “church” are you talking about and what do they know about reproductive health? Wouldn’t it be better to preserve the tube to save the woman’s fertility? ectopic pregnancy is not the only reason an abortion is medically necessary by a long shot, you need to do your research.

  4. Cassy on July 8, 2019 at 12:02 AM

    Love the article!!!

    • HLI Staff on July 8, 2019 at 10:05 AM

      Thank you, Cassy!

    • Madison on July 30, 2020 at 5:25 AM

      To say that women have worse mental health (anxiety, depression, etc) when they get an abortion is not necessarily true. Sure it may happen for some, but causation does not equal correlation. This article cherry picks and is completely one sided about abortion. Nice try though

  5. Cicely Kimball on July 21, 2019 at 11:46 PM

    This is not a proper medical assessment. This is a one-sided statement. If this article was true in any form the American Medical Association would not be suing the states that have banned abortion sighting the archaic law keeps doctors from properly giving women proper Medical Care and infringes on personal privacy between a doctor and their patient. This is an opinion piece.

    • HLI Staff on July 23, 2019 at 9:14 AM

      We are not a news organization, but one should also not assume the AMA is neutral. This author’s father was a physician who left the AMA after the AMA endorsed abortion. We would recommend a good YouTube interview by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL, debating another abortionist. (Dr. Nathanson ceased doing abortion after thousands, when he saw a child aborted while watching the ultrasound. Ultrasound was new at that time.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxTsLwbSz2Y&t=2s

  6. Toni on September 1, 2019 at 11:32 PM

    With a granddaughter who argues an abortion is performed ONLY if the baby has no chance for survival without a devastating disability or chronic illness. I agree 100% with your article. Thank you SO very much for revealing the real truth. With a young, liberal, opinionated woman, an argument isn’t beneficial, but I’m very thankful to read the truth!

  7. Your organization is pure evil on October 12, 2020 at 4:51 PM

    As someone whose life was saved by terminating a planned pregnancy that my husband and I desperately wanted and cherished, I find your lies and propaganda horrific and criminal. I was lucky to have the best in medical care, many doctors across several medical specialities consult on my case, and the support of my church. Most women do not have that. Your “sources” are flimsy and the science twisted. I don’t know why I’m even commenting since organizations such as your only serve to control and scare women. There is a special place in hell reserved for anyone associated with this organization, be sure of that.

    • HLI Staff on October 16, 2020 at 1:10 PM

      Intentionally aborting the baby is never necessary to preserve the health of the mother. Should the mother or child be sick, they should be treated, and every effort should be made to save both people, mother and child. When a woman receives life-saving medical care which results in the sad and unintended death of her child in the womb, this is not abortion.

  8. Dawn on November 14, 2020 at 5:48 PM

    This happened in my family. My sister had a choice, in order for her survival she needed to be treated immediately, treating her immediately meant that her unborn baby would not survive and would die a slow and painful death. If she chose to wait until her baby was born to have her treatment, she would most likely die or have severe brain damage to where she’d be a vegetable, or she could induce labor and hope against all odds the baby survives it to live a quality life. She had 2 other children to consider in all this as well. HLI staff, what would have been your choice? Saying these decisions don’t ever happen is a lie.

    • HLI Staff on November 17, 2020 at 9:46 AM

      Dawn, Thank you for the question and the opportunity to explain. The article does not claim “hard cases” are non-existent. In those extremely rare cases when the mother’s life truly is threatened by pregnancy (such as with cancer of the uterus or ectopic pregnancy, etc.), she may undergo an operation whose purpose is to save her life, even though the preborn child dies as an indirect result of the procedure. This principle is known as the “double effect” and is sometimes misunderstood, even among Catholics. A fuller explanation of the principle can be found here: https://www.hli.org/resources/principle-double-effect/. The direct killing of a preborn child (abortion) is never permissible because the intent is to end his or her life; however, when a medical procedure necessary to save the life of the mother causes the unintentional death of the child, the action which causes both good and bad effects is morally permissible when all conditions of the principle of double effect are met.

  9. VN on October 8, 2021 at 10:13 AM

    In many late term pregnancies it is more dangerous to perform an abortion than deliver the baby by emergency c-section.

  10. Cass on October 15, 2021 at 2:10 PM

    Let women do what they want with their own bodies

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