The Politics of Abortion


An induced abortion is the intentional termination of a human pregnancy. The procedure is primarily done in the first 28 weeks of pregnancy. An abortion can be performed by taking medication or undergoing surgery.1 Abortions are safe procedures when conducted in professional, medical environments, and do not contribute to the increase in any physical or mental issues.1

Medical Abortions

The first type of abortion is a medical abortion, and is usually administered within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. This type of abortion involves taking mifepristone and misoprostol tablets. The majority of all abortions take place before 8 weeks of pregnancy.1

Surgical Abortions

The second kind of abortion is a surgical abortion. There are many different kinds of surgical abortions. Manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) is a procedure in which suction is used to remove the embryo, placenta, and other membranes with a syringe.2 Manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) is typically performed 5 to 12 weeks after the last menstrual cycle.

Dilation and curettage (D&C) is when the cervix is opened, and the endometrium is removed by scraping and scooping out the lining of the uterus. This process is used within the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.3

Dilation and evacuation (D&E) is a slightly more invasive procedure, and consists of dilating the opening of the uterus and taking out its contents with surgical instruments and vacuum devices. This method is used between 15 weeks and 26 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions that occur after 21 weeks compromise 1.5% of abortions.4

Facts and Figures

It is important to be educated on the latest data collected in regards to abortion before forming a political opinion about it. Here are some key pieces of information related to abortion:

  • 652,639 legal induced abortions took place in 2014 in the United States.
  • The abortion rate in 2014 was 12.1 abortions for every 1000 women be in between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States.
  • The abortion rate decreased by 2% from 2013 to 2014 in the United States.
  • From 2005 to 2014, the ratio of reported abortions decreased by 22% in the United States.
  • Women in their twenties accounted for more than half of abortions in 2014.
  • The majority of abortions take place early in the gestation process:
    • 91.5% of abortions are performed before the 13th weeks of gestation
    • 7.2% of abortions are performed between the 14th and 20th weeks of gestation
    • 1.3% of abortions are performed later than 21 weeks of gestation
  • The percentage of abortions that are reported as early medical abortions increased by 110% between 2005 and 2014.5

U.S. Politics Surrounding Abortion

In the era of political polarization, it appears that almost any subject matter can spark controversy and debate. Abortion is no exception to this rule: when the topic of abortion is discussed, people tend to assume one of two standpoints: pro-life or pro-choice. A person who is pro-life believes that women should not have the ability to abort a human life because it would constitute murder. A pro-choice individual believes that the woman carrying the fetus should be given the right to decide whether to carry the baby to term or abort it.


Left: Pro-choice protestors rallying for Planned Parenthood and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Right: Pro-life activists calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the abolition of abortion.

Pro-Life Rhetoric

The following list describes some of the opinions and ideologies of pro-lifers.

  • Pro-life individuals believe that the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. Pro-lifers claim to kill a life before it is even born is to commit an act of murder, and should be prohibited by the government.
  • If the pregnancy is the result of carelessness on the mother’s part, she should have to deal with the consequences. It is ultimately her responsibility to utilize the proper contraceptive methods to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
  • Only 51% of abortion patients in 2014 were using a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant, commonly condoms (24%) or hormonal methods (13%). Women should prioritize using contraceptive methods instead of relying on abortion as a form of birth control.6
  • All babies have great potential; a woman could possibly abort a fetus that could have grown up to be of great importance to society or the world at large.
  • Many religions do not endorse abortion or certain forms of birth control. This is because such religions may believe that sexual intercourse is for procreation purposes or because any children conceived within a marriage are children of God. Terminating a child of God is a moral sin.

Essentially, pro-life individuals value the life of the fetus, the responsibility of the mother, the importance of contraception rather than the reliance on abortion, and religious morals. Specific policy prescriptions of pro-life people include prohibiting abortion, shutting down abortion clinics, and various government-established obstacles to make abortions less accessible.

Pro-Choice Rhetoric

The following list describes some of the opinions and ideologies of pro-choice individuals.

  • Every child born should come into the world wanted, loved, and cared for. Planned children often have better life prospects because caregivers are better prepared to support the child physically, emotionally, and financially.7
  • The fetus is not yet a human being because it cannot survive outside the uterus on its own. Abortion should not be considered murder if the fetus is not self-sustaining and requires the mother’s body and physical resources to survive.
  • A woman’s body belongs to herself, and she should be free to do what she deems necessary for her body and overall health in any situation.
  • In cases of rape or incest, the resulting baby could be a constant reminder to the woman of the trauma she experienced. Research also suggests that the babies of such cases face a higher risk of neglect or abuse from their mothers.7
  • Many foster homes and orphanages are beyond capacity; putting a child into the foster care system would weigh even heavier on already-scarce resources.
  • Abortion is overall a very safe procedure. Less than 1% of abortions performed before 21 weeks of pregnancy result in major complications such as heavy bleeding or infection.2

Overall, pro-choice individuals value women’s reproductive rights, the health of the woman if the abortion is an endangerment to her health, women’s body autonomy, and the success of planned pregnancies and children. Specific policy prescriptions of pro-choice people include less barriers on the accessibility of abortion clinics in certain states, less government regulation on decisions related to abortion, and more public funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Statistics Regarding the Abortion Debate

When asked about whether or not they are “pro-choice” or “pro-life”, Americans tend to be evenly divided on the issue. In 2017, 49% of Americans identified as “pro-choice,” whereas 46% of Americans identify as “pro-life.” When surveyed with only the choice between these two labels, Americans seem to be more opposed than ever when it comes to the issue of abortion.

Although Americans are divided on the subject of abortion when asked to label themselves as either “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” the truth of the matter involves a lot more gray area. When Americans are inquired about more specific policy positions, points of contention tend to overlap rather than clash. It appears that “pro-choice” and “pro-life” individuals agree a lot more often than it would seem.

  • “Under no circumstances” should abortion be a legal practice: 20% of respondents agreed.
  • “Under any circumstances” abortion should be a legal practice: 24% of respondents agreed.
  • “Under a few circumstances” abortion should be a legal practice: 40% of respondents agreed.
  • “Under most circumstances” abortion should be a legal practice: 15% of respondents agreed.9

Furthermore, the data show those who believe abortion should never or always be legal are the minority among those who support abortion in all cases or those who support it under certain circumstances.

There are variations within each group depending on how liberal or conservative one’s opinions are; some individuals who are pro-life believe that in cases where the mother’s life is threatened, abortion should be legal. Other pro-life advocates believe that when a woman is pregnant from rape or incest, they should also have access to an abortion. Certain pro-choice groups favor waiting periods and other forms of restrictions on abortion.

Oftentimes, pro-choice and pro-life individuals can come to the consensus that life begins at some point during the pregnancy, whether that is the beginning of the fetal heartbeat, the development of major organs, the start of the third trimester, etc. Furthermore, pro-choice proponents do not necessarily support or advocate abortion. They simply want women to have bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and control over their own futures. Therefore, contrary to popular media portrayals of the debate between pro-life and pro-choice groups, there is not actually a clear-cut line between the two sides of the argument for many American citizens.

No matter which side you have personally taken (if you do choose to “pick” a side), it is important to understand what the opposing position believes. The more you know about the arguments in favor of or against abortion, the better prepared you will be if you must make this type of decision regarding your own pregnancy.

Gray Area in the Abortion Debate

The following questions are important to consider when forming an opinion on abortion.

Should abortion be restricted by imposing conditions on it such as mandatory 24-hour waiting periods or mandatory counseling about alternatives to abortion?

Currently, 21 American states require parental consent for abortion if the woman is under 18 years of age, and 38 states require “parental involvement” in the decision if the woman is a minor.2 This means that a parent or guardian (or both parents/guardians) may need to give consent, receive notification, or provide notarized documentation of consent for an abortion to be performed.

Should abortions be banned after a certain duration of pregnancy?

There is no current American legislation banning abortion after a fixed point in pregnancy. However, the later in pregnancy an abortion is performed the more risky it becomes. Many practicing clinicians reserve the right to refuse an abortion completely or to decide they will not perform an abortion after a specific amount of time out of concern regarding the safety of the procedure for the patient.9

Should certain late-term abortion procedures, such as intact Dilation and Extraction (“D and E”) abortions, be banned?

Because dilation and extraction abortions closely resemble the birthing process or miscarriage, people are often weary of this type of abortion. The fetus is removed from the uterus intact and is further along in development. Americans are more accepting of abortions that occur early in pregnancy when the fetus is not as developed and is not “viable” (able to survive on its own outside of the woman’s body). In terms of which trimester Americans are the most accepting of abortions taking place, about 41% agree first-trimester abortions should be permitted. Additionally, about 15% of Americans agree that both first- and second-trimester abortions should be permitted, about 29% say abortion should never be permitted, and 5% are unsure.

Should financially-challenged women’s abortions be publicly funded?

Currently, all American states are required to fund abortions in certain circumstances (namely for women who have been raped, who are victims of inscest, or whose livesare in danger as a result of the pregnancy). Some states and organizations voluntarily fund abortions under other varying circumstances.

Abortion on an International Scale

Abortion is an area of politics that is regulated differently in varying parts of the world. However, 96% of countries allow abortion if it saves their life. A quarter of the countries only allow abortion if the pregnancy is threatening the woman’s life, almost half of the countries allow abortion if the pregnancy is negatively affecting the mother’s health. Thirty percent of the world’s nations allow abortion under any circumstance.

The vast majority of countries have legal amendments that allow abortions to be performedunder certain circumstances. The only countries that ban abortion under any circumstances are some located in Latin America, such as Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Vatican City and Malta also restrict abortion under any circumstance.

Seventy-three percent of European countries have legalized abortion in any circumstances. They include France, Germany, and Russia. Western and Northern Europe are generally more progressive about abortion policy in comparison to Eastern Europe.6

Latin America’s political climate surrounding abortion is more conservative in comparison to Europe. Most Latin Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in most cases. Uruguay is more liberal on abortion politics, with over half of its population believing that abortion should be legal. Chile is divided, with half of its population saying abortion should be legal in most circumstances, while the other half vouching that abortion should be illegal in most circumstances. Argentina and Paraguay are more conservative about abortion, and the majority of their populations think that abortion should be illegal in most circumstances.8

North Africa and the Middle East are the most restrictive when it comes to abortion policy,only allowing it when the mother’s life is threatened. Bahrain and Tunisia are the only countries in the Middle East region that legalized abortion. Almost all sub-Saharan African countries only allow abortion when the mother’s life is at risk. South Africa and Cape Verde are the exceptions, and are the only countries in this area that allow abortion under any circumstance.6

Overall, it appears that the world is becoming more progressive when it comes to the legality of terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

Making Your Own Decision About Abortion

Deciding for yourself whether or not abortion is or is not the correct decision depends on your own economic, political, social, moral, and religious values. It is important to discuss these issues with your family, partner, and friends to help you come to terms with your ideology on abortion policy.

Your ideas about abortion may fluctuate over time. Someone who identifies as “pro-life” may soon become “pro-choice” after personal circumstances, and vice versa.

Furthermore, the labels “pro-choice” or “pro-life” do not necessarily dictate all of your beliefs on specific policy positions. For instance, a “pro-choice” person may believe it is immoral to have an abortion after the last third of pregnancy, while a “pro-life” individual may think it is legal to terminate a pregnancy if the mother is severely ill. There are multiple areas in which these two positions overlap, and identifying one way or the other, somewhere in between, or not at all is a decision that is entirely your own.9


  1. Parenthood, Planned. “Health Centers.” Planned Parenthood
  2. “Indications for MVA Use.” Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
  3. “Dilation and Curettage (D&C).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Oct. 2016
  4. “Dilation and Evacuation (D&E).” Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
  5. “Reproductive Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Nov. 2017
  6. Theodorou, Angelina E., and Aleksandra Sandstrom. “How Abortion Is Regulated around the World.” Pew Research Center, 6 Oct. 2015
  7. Sawhill, Isabel, and Joanna Venator . “Improving Childrens Life Chances through Better Family Planning.” Center on Children and Families at BROOKINGS, Jan. 2015.
  8. “Latin America & Caribbean.” Center for Reproductive Rights, 19 Feb. 2014
  9. LeVay, Simon, Janice Baldwin, and John Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. Sinauer Associates, Inc., 2009
  10. Chavkin, Wendy, et al. “Regulation of Conscientious Objection to Abortion.” National Institutes of Health, US National Library of Medicine, 19 June 2017

Last Updated: 27 February 2018.