How Abortion Works

By: Molly Edmonds

Pregnancy Image Gallery Positive pregnancy tests are not always a time to celebrate. See more pregnancy pictures.

All women, when they become pregnant, must consider a wide variety of options. For some women, these options are along the lines of baby names, nursery décor themes and childcare choices. Other women, however, don't view a positive pregnancy test as such a joyous occasion, and these women begin considering options that include giving the baby up for adoption or terminating the pregnancy with an abortion. Depending on where the woman lives, that last option is legal, or it may be pursued underground.

In the United States alone, half of the 6 million pregnancies that occur each year are unplanned; about 1.3 million of those 3 million unplanned pregnancies end in abortion [source: Bazelon]. If these rates continue, then about one-third of women in the U.S. will have had an abortion by age 45 [source: Guttmacher Institute]. Worldwide, about 2 percent of all women of reproductive age will have an abortion each year [source: Grimes, Creinin]. (These numbers don't include the number of women who suffer spontaneous abortions, the medical term for miscarriages.)


The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies abortion, provides the statistics that give us an idea of the type of women who pursue an abortion. In the United States, that woman is likely to be young (50 percent of U.S. women obtaining abortion are under the age of 25), unmarried (unwed women obtain two-thirds of all abortions) and lower class (the abortion rate for poor women is four times higher than that of women living above the poverty line). She's also likely to have at least one child already (60 percent of abortions are performed on women who are already mothers) and to report not using contraceptives properly, if at all. Of the abortions performed in the United States, 37 percent are attributed to black women, 34 percent to white women and 22 percent to Hispanic women.

­Despite the fact that abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures for women, we don't hear much about the actual process very often. The topic of abortion has become one of the most contentious ethical and legal issues of our time, wrapped up in phrases like "right to life" and images of coat hangers. Regardless of how you feel about the subject, the numbers above indicate that many women make the choice to terminate a pregnancy. But the choice doesn't end there. On the next page, we'll consider the many options for how the procedure is carried out.