Although the reasons women obtain abortions vary widely by country and region, there are similarities in the main categories of reasons, according to an article recently published in Contraception, “Reasons Women Have Induced Abortions: A Synthesis of Findings from 14 Countries,” by Guttmacher researchers Sheila Desai and colleagues. The findings from this study provide a broad picture of the circumstances that may influence women’s decisions to have an abortion.

The authors examined reasons for abortion across countries, and within countries by women’s sociodemographic characteristics. They found that, in most countries, the most frequently cited reasons for having an abortion were socioeconomic concerns or a desire to limit childbearing. In six of the 13 countries for which there were data available on women’s primary reason for seeking an abortion, more than one-quarter of women cited socioeconomic reasons for having an abortion. In five countries, limiting childbearing was the most frequently reported primary reason.

In most of the countries in which socioeconomic concerns were frequently cited, a substantial portion of abortions occurred among young, unmarried women. The authors suggest that these women may obtain abortions because they lack the financial means to raise a child or feel that having a child would interfere with future opportunities.

“Women’s primary reasons for making the decision to have an abortion often have to do with managing an array of responsibilities using only limited resources,” says Gilda Sedgh, principal research scientist with the Guttmacher Institute. “And it is likely that multiple, interrelated reasons drive the decision. In order to better support women, we must focus on the complexities underlying these decisions.”

The researchers analyzed nationally representative data from 14 diverse countries across South and Central Asia, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean. They identified three types of data sources: official statistics, population-based surveys of reproductive-age women (aged 15–49) and facility-based data collected from abortion patients.

Although the authors examined how women’s reasons for an abortion varied by their sociodemographic characteristics, they found that few generalizations could be made based on those characteristics, partly because only a handful of countries had sufficient data to examine patterns. However, the available data showed little relationship between women’s sociodemographic characteristics and their reasons for having an abortion.

This most recent review of women’s reasons for obtaining abortions highlights the personal, social, economic and health factors that inform a woman’s decision to have an abortion. This information can be used to design policies and programs that better address women’s needs. 

The article is available online at Contraception: Reasons Women Have Induced Abortions: A Synthesis of Findings from 14 Countries.”