Why Do Women Have Abortions?

Many Women Believe That Their Existing Responsibilities Could Compromise Their Ability to Raise A(nother) Child

Women give many reasons for having an abortion; the most frequent are that having a child (or another child) would interfere with their ability to care for their existing children, their work responsibilities or their education, and that they cannot afford a baby right now, according to "Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives," by Lawrence B. Finer et al., of the Guttmacher Institute. Women’s reasons for ending a pregnancy have been consistent over time and often focus on their responsibilities to the children they already have and considerations for the children they plan to have in the future.

"There is a misconception that women take the decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly," says Finer. "Women’s primary reasons for making this difficult decision are based on a lack of resources in light of their current responsibilities. Typically, more than one reason drives the decision, and these reasons are frequently interrelated."

In a recent survey of abortion patients at 11 provider sites around the country, the study authors identified concern for the children women already have as a key factor in their decision to terminate a pregnancy. The reasons women cited as "most important" are that they are not ready for a child or another child (25%), and they cannot afford a baby right now (23%). Nearly four in 10 women surveyed said they had already had all the children they wanted. The reasons women gave in 1987, the last year in which this survey was conducted, were similar.

Many women raised financial, emotional and time concerns about their ability to care for their existing children, as is highlighted in one in-depth interview:

"There is just no way I could be the wonderful parent to all three of them and still have enough left over to keep the house clean and make sure the bills are paid and I’m in bed on time so I can be at work on time. It’s impossible," said a 30-year-old unmarried survey respondent with two children, living below the poverty line.

"The reality is that women don’t set out to have an abortion per se, but rather choose not to have a baby at that time. For many women, it is the only decision they can make, given their circumstances," says Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. "This is not a political issue, but rather one that affects real women facing difficult choices. It’s time to bring our attention back to these women and address the underlying problem—unintended pregnancy. Focusing on preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place will reduce the need for women to make these tough choices."

This article appears in the September 2005 issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Also in this issue:

"Pregnancy Intention from Men’s Perspectives: Does Child Support Enforcement Matter?" by Chien-Chung Huang;

"Neighborhood Context and Sexual Behaviors Among Adolescents: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health," by Catherine Cubbin et al.;

"Gonorrhea and Chlamydia Infection Among Women Visiting Family Planning Clinics: Racial Variation in Prevalence and Predictors," by Lisa A. Einwalter et al.;

"Adolescent Partner-Type Experience: Psychosocial and Behavioral Differences," by Cynthia Rosengard et al.; and

"Public Opinion About Condoms for HIV and STD Prevention: A Midwestern State Telephone Survey," by William L. Yarber et al.

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