Abortion and the Whole Woman

Sources listed below


Abortion and the Whole Woman

Abortion is unnecessarily a polarizing issue. Simplifying it into pro and anti camps dehumanizes women and distracts us from the real problems that women are facing. Let’s lay some groundwork, and get to know what abortion is. Then we can look at the women who find themselves at abortion’s doorstep. Once we get to know these women we may find there are ways we can help their whole being for the better, not just their fetus’ and vaginas.

What is an abortion? Abortion ranges from a procedure that begins with a few pills and ends at home to a range of more complex surgical procedures as the pregnancy progresses. Any surgical procedure comes with some risks, but abortion by a doctor is considered a safe procedure, with less than 1 out of 100 women suffering a serious problem from an abortion [1]. Another thing to consider is that abortion is not an in-and-out process. Depending on which type of procedure you need it may take a week or so to complete a procedure, and there may be healing time afterward. Here are some sources that can give you a clearer idea of what goes on in a woman’s body during an abortion. This information from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service gives some great information about medical abortions. If I were considering one this is the page I would want to read. It walks you through step by step and prepares you realistically for what does and can happen during a medical abortion. This article from e-medicine health gives you some legal history of abortion as well as telling about different procedures. This article from WebMD contains good information on procedures and things to think about.

abortion pie chart
Most abortions occur early in a pregnancy.

Where is the whole woman in the debate? The legality of abortion is a fight some will want to take up. I think there is something more important at stake here. The abortion issue has been boiled down to being about bodies, babies, and tissue. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the woman in the middle of all of this. We have lost sight of the ways women arrive on the verge of abortion. We forget that abortion is almost no-one’s plan A. If everything had gone right she wouldn’t be here. If he had stayed, or the condom wouldn’t have slipped, or she had escaped whatever horrible thing happened that night, the word abortion would never have come up.

In light of a culture that at times prefers to view women as a conglomeration of body parts, I think the abortion debate should move away from this impersonal view of women and start addressing the whole person. How can we prevent abortions by making sure women’s and family’s needs are met before she is in the position to consider it? Understandably, there are scenarios where considering abortion can’t be avoided: she didn’t know he was that kind of guy, no one had any indication the baby would have this condition. These scenarios give you the opportunity to engage in the time worn legal or illegal debate. But there is plenty of room for us as a caring society to step in and help keep other women from being in this tough position. Let’s take a look at some facts about abortion.

Let’s look at who these women are that are getting abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, here are some numbers:

  • The overall U.S. unintended pregnancy rate increased slightly between 1994 and 2008, but unintended pregnancy increased 55% among poor women, while decreasing 24% among higher-income women.[2,4]
  • Overall, the abortion rate decreased 8% between 2000 and 2008, but abortion increased 18% among poor women, while decreasing 28% among higher-income women.[3]
  • A broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions:[3]
  • 58% are in their 20s;
  • 61% have one or more children;
  • 56% are unmarried and not cohabiting;
  • 69% are economically disadvantaged; and
  • 73% report a religious affiliation.

Then combine that information with the reasons women site for getting abortions

  • The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.[5]
  • Fifty-one percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method in the month they got pregnant, most commonly condoms (27%) or a hormonal method (17%).[6]

After having a quick glance at these statistics I think most of us can pinpoint things that, if improved, would likely have an affect on these numbers. Poverty, for example, if taken out of the equation, might mean that over half of abortions don’t happen. If contraceptives didn’t fail, that may also eliminate half of abortions. What if the workplace were a place where women with children truly flourished? That might also eliminate many abortions. You can see we are getting into big, complicated issues that affect large populations of men and women. These problems don’t have a simple answer.

If we want to look at the whole woman, I think the abortion debate needs to start here, in the trenches with these bigger issues with society. This will not really make the struggle easier, but I believe addressing the root issues will provide a more permanent solution than just giving or denying access to abortions.

We also do not have to look at this merely as a big solution. While it would be awesome to eliminate poverty, maybe we could bite off a smaller chunk and think of our task more specifically as: How can we eliminate the financial stresses specifically related to young women who are in positions that make them vulnerable to unintended pregnancy? There appear to be more than enough opportunities for caring and innovation to go around. Where will you start?

Sources for infographic

By age 45 about half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy and nearly 1 in 3 will have an abortion.
Sources: Henshaw SK, Unintended pregnancy in the United States, Family Planning Perspectives, 1998, 30(1):24–29 & 46, and Jones RK and Kavanaugh ML, Changes in abortion rates between 2000 and 2008 and lifetime incidence of abortion, Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2011, 117(6):1358–1366.
Demographic characteristics of women having abortions (age, race/ethnicity, religion, children, economic status, marital status).
Source: Jones RK, Finer LB and Singh S, Characteristics of U.S. abortion patients, 2008, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2010.
88% have their abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Abortion surveillance—United States, 2006, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2009, Vol. 58, No. SS-8.
These graphics were made possible by a grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation


  1. Abortion.” WebMD.com. Ed. Sarah Marshall, Rebecca H. Allen, and Kirtly Jones. Healthwise, 4 June 2014. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. <http://www.webmd.com/women/tc/abortion-topic-overview&gt;..
  2. Finer LB and Zolna MR, Shifts in intended and unintended pregnancies in the United States, 2001–2008, American Journal of Public Health, 2014, 104(S1): S44-S48.
  3. Jones RK and Kavanaugh ML, Changes in abortion rates between 2000 and 2008 and lifetime incidence of abortion, Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2011, 117( 6):1358–1366.
  4. Zolna MR, Guttmacher Institute, New York, unpublished data, 2014.
  5. Finer LB et al., Reasons U.S. women have abortions: quantitative and qualitative perspectives, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2005, 37(3):110–118.
  6. Jones RK, Frohwirth L and Moore AM, More than poverty: disruptive events among women having abortions in the USA, Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, 2012, 39(1):36–43.

NOTE: When you begin to scour the internet for statistics on abortion it becomes clear that the most recent data is from about 2011, and that data could be more robust. This is an area where current research would be very beneficial.

Additional Sources of information

This article by Elizabeth Landau sites a study that indicates free contraceptives may prevent abortions. The study has its flaws, but it provides an interesting foundation for more research.

This article by Jacque Wilson of CNN summarizes a number of statistics from the Guttmacher Institute and notes their limitations.

This TED video by Aspen Baker offers a great, nonjudgmental community surrounding abortion experiences.

Here is the Guttmacher website so you can look at their statistics yourself

Here is a link to abortion data from the CDC


  1. Most people have a side of the legal/illegal abortion debate, and most people have reasons for choosing that side. What are your reasons? Do your reasons stem from personal experience? Religious Conviction? List your reasons in as much detail as possible.
  2. How do you feel about considering root causes for abortion? Do you feel it is a distraction from the main issue of abortion’s legality? Do you feel that some of the reasons for your abortion stance could coincide with addressing some of the possible root causes for abortion?
  3. List all of the issues that you think can address abortion prevention.
  4. Now, prioritize that list. What do you think would most get to the root of preventing unintended pregnancy that leads to abortion?
  5. What would you do to address that root cause? Would you find a way to support single women who would choose to keep their baby if it wasn’t for their financial situation? Would you work you make contraceptives better or easier to get? The list is endless.
  6. What would a world without abortion look like? What would that mean? How would society have to change so that no woman ever had to be in a position that required her to consider abortion?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s