The Last Abortion Clinic
  • home
  • watch online
  • abortion wars
  • shifting attitudes
  • map
  • discussion

abortion in america
A closer look at the national picture: Who's having abortions? How much do the procedures cost? How many states have parental consent laws, mandatory waiting periods and other regulations? What do we know about the regulations' impact? Do Americans think abortion should be legal?

A note on sources: Numbers are based on the most recent figures available. Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics are drawn from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization which researches sexual and reproductive health issues. Though Guttmacher's mission is to protect and support reproductive choice, its numbers are cited by both sides in the abortion debate.

Who is having abortions?

There were 1.29 million abortions in the U.S. in 2002, the most recent year for which figures are available. Since abortion became legal in 1973, more than 42 million abortions have occurred in the U.S.

  • Women under the age of 25 have 52 percent of abortions; teenagers have 19 percent.

  • Black women are more than 3 times and Latino women are 2 1/2 times as likely as white women to have abortions.

  • Two-thirds of all abortions are had by women who have never been married, and more than 60 percent are had by women who have one or more children.

  • 43 percent of women having abortions are Protestant; 27 percent are Catholic.

  • Each year, approximately 13,000 women have abortions after being the victims of rape or incest.


At what point in the pregnancy are women having abortions?

In 2001, 59 percent of abortions occurred at less than nine weeks gestation; 19 percent occurred between nine and 10 weeks gestation; 10 percent occurred between 11 and 12 weeks gestation; 6 percent between 13 and 15 weeks gestation; 4 percent between 16 and 20 weeks gestation; and 1 percent at 21 weeks gestation or more.


Do Americans support Roe v. Wade? What have polls shown?

Americans' views on abortion vary depending on how the question is asked. When the question is framed as to whether abortion should be banned, the public tends to tilt toward the pro-choice side, but when the question is whether abortion should be restricted, the public tends to tilt toward the pro-life side.

The Pew Research Center For the People and the Press conducted a poll in July 2005 and found that only 29 percent of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned (vs. 65 percent who want the law to stay on the books).

However, according to Pew's research, only 35 percent of Americans think abortion should be generally available.

  • 23 percent think it should be "more limited"

  • 31 percent think it should be illegal, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother

  • 9 percent think abortion should not be allowed under any circumstances

  • 73 percent favor required parental consent

  • 29 percent believe abortion is "morally wrong in nearly all circumstances"

  • 41 percent believe abortion is "morally wrong in some circumstances"

  • 26 percent believe abortion is "not a moral issue"

Click here for a compilation of the most recent polls on abortion.


What's happening to the number of abortion providers?

Between 1996 and 2000, the number of U.S. abortion providers declined by 11 percent -- from 2,042 to 1,819. As of 2000, 87 percent of U.S. counties did not have an abortion provider.

According to Medical Students For Choice, the number of physicians trained to provide abortion is likely to sharply decrease in coming years, as 57 percent of all ob/gyns who perform abortions are 50 years of age or older and only 5 percent of abortions are performed in hospitals, where most medical students are trained, and according to a study conducted in 1997, only 15 percent of chief residents in family medicine residency programs had clinical experience providing first trimester abortions.


How much does an abortion cost?

The cost of an abortion varies depending on several factors including where the procedure occurs (a clinic is less costly than a hospital) or at what point in the pregnancy the woman has the procedure.

In 2000, a non-hospital abortion of a 10-week fetus with local anesthesia cost between $150 and $4000; the average cost was $372.


Does Medicaid pay for abortions?

In 1977, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which said that federal Medicaid funds could only be used for abortion when the life of the mother was at stake or in cases of rape or incest. (The Hyde Amendment was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. McRae in 1980.)

State Medicaid funds must cover the same exceptions in the Hyde Amendment; however some states fund additional medically necessary abortions or abortions in cases of fetal abnormality.

Find out more about state laws on this interactive map.


Have states restricted insurance coverage of abortion?

Four states -- Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri and North Dakota -- only allow private insurance policies to cover abortion when the mother's life is in danger.

Eleven states restrict insurance policies for public employees:

  • Colorado and Kentucky do not permit any abortion coverage for public employees;

  • Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia provide coverage when the mother's life is endangered;

  • Massachusetts also provides coverage when the mother's health is threatened;

  • Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia provide additional coverage for public employees in the case of rape or incest;

  • Mississippi and Virginia provide additional coverage for cases of fetal abnormality.


How many states have parental consent laws?

There are 34 states that have passed enforceable parental notice or consent laws for minors who are seeking an abortion.

Find out more about state laws on this interactive map.


How many states have mandatory waiting periods or mandatory counseling sessions before an abortion can be performed?

Twenty-nine states have enforceable laws requiring some form of informed consent or counseling prior to receiving an abortion. Twenty-two states have enforceable laws requiring mandatory waiting periods.

Find out more about state laws on this interactive map.


What do we know about how state regulations (such as mandatory waiting periods, parental consent, etc.) impact abortion rates?

Economist Ted Joyce has done several studies to determine the impact of state regulations. He studied Mississippi after the state enacted a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and found that the abortion rate fell by 12 percent; however, second trimester abortions increased by 40 to 50 percent and the number of women going out of state for the procedure increased by 40 to 50 percent.

Joyce has also studied parental notification requirements and says that it is difficult to determine the effects of those laws because minors can cross state borders for an abortion in order to avoid the requirement. "What's changing is that the number of states that are imposing these laws is now up to 34," he explains. "In other words, the borders are closing. It's becoming much harder for minors to go out to a nearby state to have the termination. As an economist, we think they have to travel so much further that the law will start to have more bite."


How safe is abortion?

The Guttmacher Institute calls abortion "one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the United States." It reports that less than 0.5 percent of women experience an abortion-related complication, and that the risk of death associated with abortion is about one-tenth the risk of childbirth.

However, deaths from abortion do still occur. According to mortality reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been between four and 12 deaths from legal or illegal abortion every year for the past 10 years. The risk of death associated with abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, from 1 death for every 1 million abortions performed before the 9th week of pregnancy, to 1 per 29,000 at 16-20 weeks and 1 per 11,000 at 21 or more weeks.

Short of death, possible serious physical side effects of abortion include: inflammation, infection, hemorrhaging cervical laceration, uterine perforations, and future infertility. The Guttmacher Institute says there is no evidence of childbearing problems among women who have a vacuum aspiration abortion, the most common abortion procedure, within the first 12 weeks.

The psychological after-effects of abortion are hotly contested. Pro-life groups regularly report negative psychological effects after abortion, including depression and a form of severe emotional distress they term "Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS)," which includes symptoms of sexual inhibition, flashbacks and alcohol abuse. (The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize PAS.) According to Planned Parenthood, temporary, mild depression is reported in about 20 percent of women who have had abortions, and severe "post-partum psychosis" occurs in less than 0.02 of women who have had abortions.

home + introduction + watch online + the abortion wars + shifting attitudes + interviews
map + related FRONTLINE: "abortion clinic" + discussion + teacher's guide + readings & links
producer's chat + tapes & transcript + press reaction + credits + privacy policy

posted nov. 8, 2005

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright ©2005 corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation