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Religious Tolerance logo

Abortion data

Trends, crime, welfare, risk,
hereditary factors, worldwide data...

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Topics covered in this essay are:

bullet Trends in Elective Abortions
bullet Are abortion rates and crime rates linked?
bullet Abortion rate among women on welfare
bullet Risks During Abortions
bullet Reasons for Abortion Delays
bullet Abortion as a "Cure" for Hereditary Diseases
bullet Worldwide data

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Other topics covered elsewhere on this web site:

bullet Guilt or Depression after Elective Abortions
bullet The RU-486 Abortion Pill
bullet Emergency Contraception (a.k.a. the Morning After pill)
bullet Does a Fetus Feel Pain during an Abortion?

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Trends in elective abortions:

bullet In Canada: Second trimester induced abortions dropped in Canada from 21% of all abortions in 1974 to 10% in 1991. 1Probable causes are: better access to clinic abortions and public realization of health problems associated with late abortions. The rate of complications increases by 13 times from the first trimester to the second.
bullet In the U.S.:  Many US states have passed laws requiring parental consent before teenage women under the age of 18 can have an abortion; this has resulted in a significant rise of later abortions among young women, causing greater risk of complications. Some teens, fearing their parents' reactions, have sought illegal abortions; deaths have occurred.

A 2004 study by the Fuller Theological Seminary -- a leading Evangelical Christian divinity school -- showed that a decade long decline in abortion rates in the U.S. starting during President Clinton's administration has reversed. Glen Stassen, the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics found that, under President Bush, rising unemployment and soaring healthcare costs have increased the abortion rate. He noted that "economic policy and abortion are not separate issues. They form one moral imperative." Stassen analyzed data from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Guttmacher Institute, and annual reports by individual state governments. He found that abortion rates declined 17.4% during the 1990s and reached a 24-year low when President Bush took office. "We Hold These Truths" reported that "Many expected that downward trend to continue under the conservative president, but Stassen found the opposite: 52,000 more abortions occurred in 2002 than would have been expected under the pre-2000 conditions, and abortion has risen significantly in those states reporting multi-year abortion statistics."

The study found that:
bullet Two of three women who have abortions say that they cannot afford a child.
bullet Half do not have a dependable partner with earning potential.
bullet Women of childbearing age are over-represented among the 5.2 million additional persons who havelost health coverage since the year 2000.

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, commented: "We have seen once again in this campaign the issue of abortion used as a partisan wedge rather than having a serious discussion on how to act to reduce the number of abortions. If we are to be truly pro-life, we must focus on real people and the conditions that lead women to seek abortions. Jobs,  healthcare, and a living income must be part of a pro-life agenda." 6

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Are abortion rates and crime rates linked?

Economist Steven Levitt of Stanford Law School and co-author John Donhue III of the University of Chicago have circulated an unpublished report called "Legalized Abortion and Crime." It suggests that the legalization of abortion might have indirectly caused the lowering of crime rates which have been observed during the 1970's. Their reasoning was that abortions prevented the birth of many people who would have been born into poverty and thus be more likely to commit crimes. They suggest that abortion could be responsible for about half of the drop in crime rates since 1991. Levitt acknowledges that this conclusion is mainly "conjecture" and that it could "never be proven to the degree of certainty that a scientist might demand." Their data showed that those states that legalized abortion prior to 1973 had their crime rates drop sooner than other states. States with very high rates of abortion after 1973 tended to "have particularly high drops in crime during the 1990's." 2

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Abortions by women on welfare:

A number of state governments have placed "family caps" on the amount of money that mothers on welfare can receive. If a woman has an additional child, her aid does not increase. A woman on welfare who becomes pregnant is thus faced with a choice of:

bullet having an abortion, and preserving her standard of living, or
bullet continuing with the pregnancy and suffering a loss in her family's standard of living after giving birth.

Some individuals and groups have been concerned that such caps might cause women to make the latter decision. Researchers at Rutgers University have confirmed these concerns. They completed a study of abortion rates in New Jersey in 1998-NOV. 3 The state had legislated a cap in 1992. As the AP/Boston Globe reported: "denying more money when mothers on welfare have another child has led to dramatic decreases in the welfare birth rate -- but also to more abortions by welfare mothers."  The study found that abortion numbers in New Jersey rose slightly among women on welfare. There have been about 240 additional  abortions per year. This is in spite of a general decline in abortions among other groups of women in the state. There were 14,000 fewer births among women on welfare than would have been expected if the family cap had not been legislated. While the national birth rate among women of childbearing age dropped 7.8% from 1992 to 1996, the birth rate among women on welfare dropped 24%. Most of these births appear to have been prevented through birth control or abstinence. But about 1,400 additional abortions were performed.

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Risks During Abortions:

Some information sources which are opposed to abortion access present many horror stories of abortions which have gone terrible wrong and have resulted in the death of the woman. The actual data on the safety of abortions paints quite a different picture. "Abortion is one one of the safest surgical procedures for women."

bullet Death rate: 6 or 7 per million procedures on average. This is about 9 times safer than bearing the fetus to term and giving birth. 4,5
bullet Average complication rate: under 1%.
bullet In 1992, ten women died as a result of complications from legal induced abortions. There were no known deaths associated with illegal abortions, nor is there any reliable data on this topic. 4
bullet Complication and death rate rises rapidly with the age of the fetus. If a woman has decided to have an abortion, complications are fewer if she acts on that decision quickly -- ideally early in gestation.

The death rate for legal abortions performed:
bullet Under 9 weeks is about 2 per million procedures.
bullet At 11 to 12 week gestation is about 6 per million procedures. Almost all (88%) of  abortions are performed during or before this time.
bullet Very late in gestation is much higher: on the order of 130 per million. Such abortions are normally performed under emergency conditions.
bullet By comparison, the average maternal death rate when a pregnancy is continued to birth is about 66 per million births. The death rate from continuing the pregnancy to birth is about 33 times higher than having an early abortion (under 9 weeks gestation).

bullet The cause of death is split almost equally among hemorrhage, infection, embolism and anesthesia complications.

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Reasons for Abortion Delays

bullet undetected pregnancy
bullet the woman is in denial over pregnancy
bullet no convenient clinic nearby
bullet lack of money (in the US only; the procedure covered by health care in Canada)
bullet delay getting parental or court consent
bullet development of unexpected medical conditions
bullet realization that earlier procedures (e.g. X rays) or medication might have accidentally damaged the fetus
bullet decision to abort due to malformed fetus which was only detected after the 16th week by amniocentesis (e.g. Down's syndrome)
bullet More details

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Abortion as a "Cure" for Hereditary Diseases

There is growing support internationally for the genetic testing of teenagers for certain deadly diseases which are genetically caused. One such disease is Tay-Sachs, a progressive neurological disorder which causes death in infancy. It largely affects person of Ashkenazi-Jewish background. Another is Beta-thalassemia, a disease that causes severe anemia and death before 40 years of age. It is mainly found among people of Greek, Italian and Mediterranean background. If a conception occurs between parents who are both carriers, then the fetus has one chance in four of getting the disease. Over the last two decades, about 15,000 teenagers in Montreal, Canada were tested for Tay-Sachs. 521 carriers (1 in 28) were found. About 25,000 students were tested for Beta-talassemia. 693 (1 in 36) were identified as carriers. About 80 fetuses were tested for one of the diseases in the Montreal program; 19 were found to have it; all of the couples chose abortion rather than bring a sick and dying child into the world. The total program cost is $52,000 CDN (about 35,000 US$) per year. The program has come under considerable pressure; in 1994, Quebec's advisory committee on genetics almost succeeded in canceling it. However, the program receives good support within the two communities affected.

A study of Greek Cypriots in Northeast London, England found that about 1 in 7 carried the thalassemia gene. Very few couples who were both carriers were willing to have children; almost 75% of pregnancies were aborted because of fear of the disease. Since 1975, prenatal testing of a fetus has been introduced. The percentage of abortions by couples who are both carriers has sunk to less than 30%, a near normal figure for Britain.

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Worldwide data:

The Alan Guttmacher Institute reported that:

bullet Women in their 20s are the most likely to have an abortion.
bullet In the U.S., unmarried women are four times more likely as married women to have an abortion. In two thirds of the countries studied, married women are more likely to have an abortion.
bullet Muslims have lower abortion rates than Christians. 7
Area Number of pregnancies/yr Unplanned pregnancies Pregnancies ending in abortion
Developed countries 28 million 49% 10 million (36%)
Developing countries 182 million 36% 36 million (20%) 8
bullet Abortion rates per 1,000 women of reproductive age:
bullet Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland: fewer than 10.
bullet The rest of Europe: 10 to 23
bullet United States: 16 (2006 data; the latest available). It was close to 30 in 1981 and has been decreasing ever since.
bullet Canada:
bullet Romania, Cuba, Vietnam (the countries with the highest rates): 78 to 85.
bullet Worldwide, the lifetime average number of abortions is about 1 per woman. 8

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See also another essay on CDC abortion data

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  1. Wayne Millar, Health Statistics Division, Statistics Canada
  2. "Study: Legalized abortion helps lower crime rates," Evangelical Press News Service. Available at: 
  3. "New Jersey: Rutgers 'Family Cap' Study to be released today," at:
  4. "Abortion surveillance - U.S., 1996," National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC, at: 
  5. "An Overview of Abortion in the United States," PRCH & AGI, 2003-JAN, Page 15, at: You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  6. "Study Finds Abortion Rising Under Bush; Linked to Economic Policies," We hold these truths, at:
  7. "Worldwide, women of all backgrounds choose abortion," Alan Guttmacher Institute, (1999) at:
  8. "Facts in brief: Induced abortion worldwide," Alan Guttmacher Institute, (1999) at:

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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Facts > here

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Copyright © 1995 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 2010-JUN-12

Author: B.A. Robinson

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