Americans are appallingly ignorant on abortion statistics. One poll showed that California college students believed that abortion was illegal after the first trimester, and that there are less than 100,000 abortions done in the United States every year.1 The actual number is more than ten times as many surgical and chemical abortions ― and, of course, abortion is freely available throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

Many people also grossly overestimate the percentage of abortions done to save women’s lives or physical health, in cases of rape and incest, or to avoid birth defects (eugenics). This is a fallacy that pro-abortion groups continue to cultivate because it helps them to spread abortion in nations with pro-life laws and to retain abortion on demand once they have achieved it. Public opinion polls conducted over the years in the United States reveal that people generally believe that “hard cases” account for anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of all abortions.

3.5% of Abortions Are for the “Hard Cases”

Calculations based on statistics provided by medical journals and government surveys in the United States show that abortions for the “hard cases” are much rarer than most people believe.

Pie chart showing why women have abortions

A survey of more than 2.4 million aborting women performed by the states of Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah during the years 1996 to 2020 gives us an accurate estimate of the number of “hard case” abortions, since these are the numbers that abortion clinics must report in official documents to these states:

  • 1.14% are done to save the life or physical health of the mother.
  • 1.28% to preserve the mental health of the mother.
  • 0.39% in cases of rape or incest.
  • 0.69% for fetal birth defects, or eugenics.
  • 3.50% for all the hard cases combined.
  • 96.50% of all abortions are therefore performed for social or economic reasons.2

Even the Guttmacher Institute puts the number of abortions done for the hard cases under 7% after doing several surveys of women obtaining abortions (the Guttmacher Institute was the research arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the largest chain of abortion clinics in the United States. It is considered the most reliable provider of accurate statistics on abortion).

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Statistics from Other Nations

The reasons for abortions all over the world are largely the same. In 1998, the Guttmacher Institute published the results of studies showing that lifestyle reasons also predominate among aborting women in other nations. Its summary of surveys performed in 26 countries outside the United States showed the primary reasons for aborting given by the 62,658 women interviewed.3

Since rape and incest are included under “other reasons,” a maximum of 5.8% of all abortions performed in other countries are done for the hard cases, and a minimum of 94.2% are performed to preserve the mother’s lifestyle or to please those close to her.

The Guttmacher Institute duplicated their survey twenty years later in different nations and arrived at identical results. Its 2017 study of 39,622 women obtaining abortions in twelve nations also revealed that only 5.8% of all abortions are done for the “hard cases.”4

The Takeaway

Even people who wish to argue that the hard cases justify abortion must admit that these hard cases occur only a tiny minority of the time, and that the vast majority are performed for social and economic reasons.

 

Endnotes

[1] Marc Newman. “Katha Pollitt and the Shrinking Voice of Abortion Advocates.” Town Hall, August 7, 2015.

[2] Tabulation of reports on “Induced Termination of Pregnancy” from Florida [1998-2020], Louisiana [1996-2018], Minnesota [1999-2019], Nebraska [2001-2019], South Dakota [1999-2019], and Utah [1996-2018].

[3] Akinrinola Bankole, Susheela Singh and Taylor Haas. “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries.” International Family Planning Perspectives, Volume 24, Number 3 (August 1998). Table 2, “Percentage Distribution of Women Who Had an Abortion, by Main Reason Given for Seeking Abortion, Various Countries and Years.”

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[4] Sophia Chae, Sheila Desai, Marjorie Crowell and Gilda Sedgh. “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: A Synthesis of Findings from 14 Countries.” Contraception, Volume 96 [2017], pages 233 to 241. Table 2, “Percentage Distribution of Women Who had an Abortion by Main Reason Given for Seeking Abortion, Various Countries and Years.”

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