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Religious Tolerance logo

Abortion access

Overview of abortion:
An apparently unsolvable dilemma? :

Part 1 of 3:

Definition of terms. The main questions.
How often are abortions performed in the U.S.?

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Definition of terms:

Most web sites that deal with abortion do not pre-define their terms. This is important, because many conservative Christians and pro-lifers often assign unique meanings to common words and terms that are not shared by other people and groups. The three key terms that we use throughout this series of essays are:

bullet "Life:" Any form of living animal or vegetable.

bullet "Human life:" Any living cell or group of cells containing human DNA. A spermatozoa, ovum, pre-embryo, embryo, fetus, newborn, infant, child, youth and adult are different forms of human life. However, they are not all considered to have equal value.

bullet "Human person" This is a form of human life which is considered to be a person whose life and health should be protected. No consensus exists about when this state begins. Many pro-lifers say it happens during the process of conception, when a human life with a unique DNA is formed. Many pro-choicers say that it happens later in gestation. One of many examples is when the fetus becomes sentient -- that is the higher functions of its brain turn on for the first time, and it becomes aware of its environment to some degree. Others believe that personhood only begins when the fetus is half-emerged from its mother's body or after birth when the newborn is separated from her or his mother, and breathing on its own.

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What are the main questions?:

There are two, different, very controversial abortion questions:

  1. What is the best (or least awful) option in a specific situation? If a woman finds herself pregnant, and does not want to be, what is the best (or least worst) solution for her, the potential newborn that she is carrying, and all the other people involved -- including her boyfriend or husband and their families? Most agree that there are three options:

    1) To take no action, give birth, and raise it herself (hopefully with support from others).

    2) To take no action, give birth, and give the baby up for adoption.

    3) To have an abortion and terminate the pregnancy.

  2. Should the state overrule the woman's or couple's decision? If a woman finds herself pregnant, discusses her options with her physician, perhaps her spiritual counselor, and other people involved, and decides to have an abortion, under what conditions (if any) should the state override her decision? That is, should the state have a policy of enforced parenthood for all, most, or some pregnant women?

The first decision is a personal one, between the woman, her physician and/or counselor. The second decision was answered by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Since that ruling, women have had the right to obtain an early abortion. She also has the right to have a later abortion if it is needed for health reasons. It is in this area of abortion access that there is a great deal of political activity, at least in the U.S. Many states are passing laws which would criminalize almost all abortions. Their apparent motivation is to force the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade and perhaps reverse their decision. There is also effort in some states to ban all abortions after 20 weeks gestation on the basis that some people believe fetuses can feel pain at this stage.

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How often are abortions performed: In the United States?

Women choose to end about 20% of their pregnancies through abortion. 1 This number has been gradually declining since 1979. This is similar to the Canadian figure, 2 but is much lower than that of the former Soviet Union (~60%) and Romania (~ 78%) where contraceptives remain in short supply. 3

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), a federal government agency, reported in late 2015 that during:

"... 2012, 699,202 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. The abortion rate for 2012 was 13.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 210 abortions per 1,000 live births.

Compared with 2011, the total number and ratio of reported abortions for 2012 decreased 4%, and the abortion rate decreased 5%. Additionally, from 2003 to 2012, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 17%, 18%, and 14%, respectively. Given the large decreases in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions from 2011 to 2012, in combination with decreases that occurred during 2008–2011, all three measures reached historic lows."

Most religious conservatives attribute these declines to new laws which are closing down clinics that supply abortions and make them more difficult to obtain. Most religious liberals and secularists point to increased comprehensive sex educations, the availability of emergency conception to prevent pregnancy, and financial matters.

More CDC data from 2012:

"... 91.4% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (7.2%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (1.3%) were performed at ≥21 weeks’ gestation."

Abortions later than 20 or 21 weeks gestation are generally prohibited by state and provincial medical associations throughout North America, except for situations that threaten the life of the woman, or sometimes when the pregnancy started as a result of rape or incest.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

  1. American statistics are listed by Baptists for Life, Inc. at:
  2. Canadian statistics are listed by Action Life (Ottawa) Inc. at:
  3. Bob Enyart is an extremely conservative talk show host. He has a "Bob Enyart Live Abortion Clock" on his web site. It lists the total number of legal abortions that have been performed since 1973. See:
  4. Carl Sagan, "Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium: Chapter 15" Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store Chapter 15 has been reprinted at:
  5. S. Boyd, "Give us liberty: The approval of RU-486 isn't about morals, it's about options," at:  (This may be a temporary posting)
  6. A.T. Hyman, "The 'A' Word." This is an essay on the legal aspects of the abortion debate. See:
  7. Nellie Gray, president of March for Life, at the 28th annual March for Life, 2001-JAN-22.
  8. "Constitution Party supports statewide abortion ban," Stop Abortion in Ohio, undated, at:
  9. "Sanctity of Life," Platform, Constitution Party at:
  10. Marci McDonald, "The Armageddon Factor," Random House Canada. Released 2010-MAY-11.

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Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Abortion > here

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Copyright © 1996 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated 2018-OCT-02

Author: Bruce A Robinson

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