Sunday, July 24, 2005

Are abortions used as birth control?

With roughly 1.3 million abortions a year in the United States, many people wonder: Are women just using abortion as a method of birth control?

There are different school of thought on this question. Some prolife hardliners hold that unless the pregnancy is the result of non-consensual sex, or some health problem in mother or fetus is discovered during pregnancy, it's "abortion for birth control."

According to a study published in Family Planning Perspectives: 3% of women abort because of concerns that there is something wrong with the fetus; 3% of women abort because of concerns for their own health, and 1% abort because they are pregnant through rape or incest. That totals 7%, leaving 93% of abortions being done for birth control, by this rather loose concept.

Let's look at the rate of repeat abortions. Since Roe v. Wade, the percent of abortions done on women who have already had at least one abortion has climbed steadily. This chart was compiled from data in CDC Abortion Surviellance Summaries:

Year Previous Abortions Total Repeats
0 1 2 3+
1974 75.2% 9.8% 1.3% 0.4% 11.5%
1976 70.9% 14.8% 2.4% 0.8% 18.0%
1978 66.9% 20.9% 5.0% 1.7% 27.6%
1980 64.4% 22.4% 6.3% 2.2% 30.9%
1982 56.2% 19.7% 13.5% 5.0% 38.2%
1984 57.8% 24.5% 9.0% 4.1% 37.6%
1986 55.4% 24.7% 8.9% 4.8% 38.4%
1988 56.4% 26.2% 10.2% 4.8% 41.2%
1990 56.2% 26.4% 10.0% 5.8% 42.2%
1992 54.2% 26.9% 10.8% 6.4% 44.1%
1994 53.7% 26.6% 10.9% 6.8% 44.3%
1996 53.2% 26.4% 11.0% 7.1% 44.5%
1998 52.6% 26.4% 11.2% 7.6% 45.2%
2000 53.2% 25.7% 10.9% 7.4% 44.0%

The repeat abortion rate has recently leveled off at roughly 45% -- meaning that nearly half of women undergoing abortions have had at least one prior abortion. And there are roughly as many women having 4th, 5th, 6th and subsequent abortions as are having abortions for rape, incest, fetal indications, and maternal health combined.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe that you can only count a woman using abortion as birth control if she was not using birth control when she concieved, and she had no intention of becoming pregnant.

The former Pro-Choice Guide wrote that 42% of abortions are obtained by women who were not using contraception.

The hard-liners, defining "abortion as birth control" as any abortion chosen because the woman doesn't want to have the baby, put the "abortions as birth control" rate at 95%. The middle ground, judging by repeat abortions, puts "abortions as birth control" at 45%. And the most conservative count, just counting abortions on women who weren't using contraception, put "abortions as birth control" at 42%. Even the low end, the conservative estimate of 42%, is still, by anybody's reckoning, a lot of abortions.

So are abortions being used as birth control? It seems that the answer is yes. But this is a simplistic way of looking at the issue. Here are some resources that provide further food for thought:

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