Understanding the medical reasons for abortion is important when debating this highly emotional issue.
A Difficult Debate
Roe v. Wade affirmed the right to legal abortion in the Untied States in 1973, but the abortion debate continues today. While some people believe the decision to carry a pregnancy to term rests with the woman alone, others believe that abortion is never an acceptable option.
Today, research suggests that approximately 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the United States. This means that roughly 2 percent of women ages 15-44 will have an abortion each year. Ninety percent of abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with the majority performed during the first eight weeks. Very few abortions are done after pregnancy calendar week 16, although medical reasons for abortion may require the procedure after this point.
An Overview of Medical Reasons for Abortion
Women choose to have abortions for a variety of reasons. Contraceptive failure is the most common reason for choosing abortion, since more than half of all women having abortions used some form of contraceptive during the month they became pregnant. The feeling that one is unable to support or care for a child is another commonly cited reason for choosing abortion.
Medical reasons for abortion, while not as common, present much more difficult choices for the pregnant woman. Some women end up choosing abortion to prevent the birth of a child with serious medical problems while others have their own medical issues that could mean risking death or severe injury if the pregnancy is carried to term.
Health of the Baby
For a couple who was actively trying to conceive, finding out their baby will be born with a serious birth defect can be a devastating experience. Amniocentesis, usually performed between 14 and 20 weeks, can detect a variety of chromosome abnormalities, neural tube defects, and genetic disorders. The accuracy of amniocentesis findings is thought to be 99.4 percent. Some parents choose to undergo the procedure because they want to be prepared if they will be having a baby with a medical complication, while others want to be able to decide if the pregnancy should be terminated.
Some of the conditions that can be detected via amniocentesis include:
- Down Syndrome
- Trisomy 18
- Spina Bifida
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Sickle Cell Disease
It should be noted that while some of the birth defects listed above are medically classified as "incompatible with life," others are not. This means that the decision whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term must consider what type of life the child will be able to lead as he or she grows. Balancing quality of life concerns with the desire to begin or expand one's family is never easy.
Health of the Mother
Although most women are able to successfully carry a pregnancy to term with no risk to their own health, there are some women who have medical conditions that make it difficult or dangerous to give birth. When faced with a pregnancy under these circumstances, abortion is one option that may be considered.
Examples of some of the conditions that can complicate a pregnancy include:
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Certain other sexually transmitted diseases
Abortions done to preserve the mental health of the mother, such as when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, may also be classified as one of the valid medical reasons for abortion. Women who choose to have abortions when the pregnancy is the result of an abusive relationship may also be considered to fall into this category.
If you are interesting in learning more about the issues surrounding abortion, LoveToKnow Pregnancy recommends visiting the following helpful resources:
- Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States
- Prenatal Tests, Genetics, and Abortion
- Medicaid Funding for Medically Necessary Abortions