Abortion Myths You Should Stop Believing

On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court determined that abortion is not a constitutional right, effectively reversing Roe v. Wade. The landmark Roe v. Wade case, decided in 1973, had concluded that individual state restrictions criminalizing abortion violated a woman's constitutional right to privacy (via the Britannica). Prior to 1973, abortion was legal in some states with varying levels of restrictions, and many states allowed abortion when a pregnant woman's life was at risk, but there was no federal law about abortion. Throughout the 50 years that Roe v. Wade served as a legal precedent, abortion became an extremely politically divisive issue in the U.S. (via Reuters).

As abortion is a heated topic, there's an enormous amount of abortion misinformation out there. In fact, misinformation about abortion on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has skyrocketed in the time since the Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked in May 2022 (via Scientific American). With this in mind, it's a good idea to fact-check any claims about abortion you come across. In this article, we're going to look at some relevant scientific studies and statistics related to abortion. Read on to see some common abortion myths debunked.

Myth: Abortion is a high-risk procedure

Though some have tried to suggest that abortion could put a pregnant woman's health at risk, scientific evidence suggests abortion is a very safe medical procedure. In fact, according to research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, live childbirth is much riskier than abortion, at least in the U.S. This study compared mortality rates from abortion to live birth across a seven-year period in America. The researchers found that live birth resulted in an average of 8.8 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, while abortion was associated with 0.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 abortions. This data suggests abortion is significantly safer than live childbirth.

In fact, there are certain health conditions that can be life-threatening during pregnancy, as explained by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). For instance, pulmonary hypertension can greatly increase the risk of mortality during pregnancy. The Pulmonary Vascular Research Institute estimates the mortality rate of pregnant women with this condition to be anywhere from 30% to 56%. As such, abortion is often recommended for pregnant patients with pulmonary hypertension.

That said, not all abortions happen safely. The World Health Organization (WHO) says about 45% of abortions worldwide are not considered safe according to their standards. They also claim that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal death in non-U.S. countries across the globe, but they emphasize that abortion is completely safe when done by a qualified medical professional.

Myth: Abortions are common in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy

You may have heard debates about whether or not abortion should take place during the later stages of pregnancy, but the reality is that the vast majority of abortions happen during the first trimester (i.e. up to 12 weeks after conception). The ACOG looked at data from the year 2008 and found just 6.2% of abortions took place between weeks 13 and 15 of pregnancy, which is considered the beginning of the second trimester. After that, only 4% of abortions happened after week 16, and 1.3% happened after week 21. Abortions during the third trimester (after week 26) are exceedingly rare.

In fact, Roe v. Wade only guaranteed a right to abortion through the first trimester of pregnancy (via the Britannica). After that, it was up to each individual state to decide whether to restrict or ban abortions later in pregnancy, though many allowed late-term abortions when a pregnant woman's life was at risk. Only seven states allowed unrestricted abortion after the second trimester (via Axios). With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, states now have the ability to ban or restrict abortions during the first trimester.

Myth: Most abortions happen in a clinic

When we think of abortion, we most likely picture having to go to a health clinic, which is what one would do in order to get a surgical abortion. However, abortions can also take place outside of a clinic, with the use of certain prescription medications. In fact, according to NBC News, the majority of U.S. abortions are now medical abortions, not surgical abortions. The news report asserts that 54% of U.S. abortions in 2020 were medical abortions (up from 44% in 2019), and that this proportion is likely to continue rising. The FDA now allows abortion pills to be mailed directly to patients.

A clinical trial from the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics found mifepristone (the main drug used for medical abortions) to be safe and effective. This study compared medical abortion to surgical abortion, and while surgical abortion was found to have slightly fewer side effects, more women preferred medical abortion. The researchers further noted that medical abortions allow more privacy than surgical abortions, and may be considered the "method of choice" for abortion.

That said, medical abortion isn't for everyone. The Mayo Clinic says that medical abortion isn't an option for those who are too far along in their pregnancy (more than 9 weeks), currently have an IUD, have an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus), or have certain medical conditions.

Myth: Having an abortion affects a woman's future fertility

One fear people may have about abortion is that it could cause permanent infertility, but no scientific evidence backs this up. The U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) explains that having an abortion has no effect on one's future ability to get pregnant. In fact, they claim many women will be able to get pregnant immediately after having an abortion. As such, they recommend contraception for women who have recently had an abortion, assuming they don't wish to get pregnant again.

However, while abortion hasn't been shown to affect fertility, the type of abortion one has may be associated with certain outcomes for future pregnancies. A systematic review and meta-analysis from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that prior uterine evacuation, whether as the result of a surgical abortion or a spontaneous abortion (i.e. a miscarriage), could slightly raise the risk of preterm births in future pregnancies. For this reason, the researchers recommend medical abortion in favor of surgical abortion, and they also recommend safer surgical techniques.

Myth: Having an abortion causes negative mental health outcomes

Some have suggested that women who have abortions are likely to develop depression or other negative mental health outcomes in the future, but there's little evidence to suggest this is true. According to the NHS, having an abortion is not associated with an increased risk of mental health issues.

A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association observed that women who had had an abortion were more likely to use antidepressants than women who had never had abortions — but across both groups, the largest risk factor for going on antidepressants was having a previous history of mental health issues. Therefore, the authors note, the difference in antidepressant use is likely attributable to previous differences in mental health risk factors, rather than to abortion specifically. They also explain that women who have a first abortion are no more likely to use antidepressants in the year before the abortion as in the year after the abortion, and the likelihood of using antidepressants decreases in the subsequent years following the abortion.

Myth: Most women who have abortions are childless

The majority of women who have abortions — about 60% — already have a child or multiple children, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of that 60%, about half have two or more children. In an interview with The New York Times, Professor Ushma Upadhyay of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, explains that one of the main reasons women have abortions is so that they can "be a better parent to the kids they already have." In other words, many women seek abortion so that they'll have more time and resources for their existing child or children.

Even among women who've never had children, many who get abortions may still want to have children eventually, according to a study from the Canadian Family Physician. The researchers analyzed data from an abortion clinic in Vancouver and found that 82% of childless women over age 33 who were having abortions were still considering having children at some point in the future.

Myth: The main reason women have abortions is that they don't want children

As we've already seen, the majority of women who have abortions are not opposed to having children in the future (via a study from the Canadian Family Physician), and about 60% are already mothers (via the CDC). So clearly, the main reason women have abortions is not that they don't want children. In reality, though, there is no single main reason why women have abortions.

According to a study from the journal Contraception, there are many reasons why women might decide to have an abortion at some point in their lives. Additionally, the authors explain that "women often have more than one reason for having an abortion." One of the most common reasons cited for having an abortion is socioeconomic concerns — not having enough money or resources to raise a child (or another child, for those who are already mothers). Other common reasons for having abortion include not wanting to limit school or career opportunities for the time being, concerns about partner compatibility or support, and health concerns. As the researchers note, most of the studies that have surveyed women who've had abortions have only asked for one reason, while only a few have allowed women to list multiple reasons. Among those that included multiple reasons, it is apparent that many different factors influence a woman's decision to have an abortion.

Myth: Most abortion patients are teenagers

Teenage abortion rates used to be higher, but 2019 data from the CDC shows that women in their 20s now account for a majority of abortions — more than half (about 57%). Meanwhile, about 31% of women who had abortions were in their 30s. By contrast, teenagers account for only 9% of abortions, and adolescents (those under 16) account for just 0.2%. The CDC explains that abortion rates decreased across all age groups from 2010 to 2019, but the biggest decrease was among adolescents.

That said, adolescents still have the highest abortion ratios, meaning more adolescent pregnancies end in abortion than pregnancies in any other age group. But abortion ratios have also dropped among all age groups, including adolescents. This is partly because fewer adolescents and teenagers are getting pregnant in the first place. Data from the Pew Research Center confirms that, as of 2018, the teen birth rate was less than half of what it was in 2008. The likely reason? One key factor is data supporting that in recent years, teens have been engaging in less sex and using contraception more frequently and effectively in comparison to teens in previous decades.

Myth: Abortion rates in the U.S. have consistently risen since Roe v. Wade

Since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 guaranteed access to abortion during the first trimester in states where it was previously banned (via the Britannica), many have assumed U.S. abortion rates would be higher now than what they were prior to 1973. While abortion rates did increase sharply in the years after Roe v. Wade, they peaked in 1980 and have been steadily declining ever since, according to data from the Pew Research Center. As of 2020, abortion rates are very similar to what they were in 1973.

That said, as explained by a study from the American Journal of Public Health, it isn't clear what to make of this trend. For instance, it could be a result of wider access to effective birth control, but it could also be a result of increasingly limited access to safe and legal abortion. The researchers note that the rate of unintended pregnancies resulting in live birth hasn't changed, so the declining rate of abortions most likely isn't a result of cultural taboos against abortion influencing more women with unintended pregnancies to decide to keep them. In any case, over the past few decades, the prevalence of women who have abortions in the U.S. has decreased from about one in three to one in four, as of 2017.

Myth: Unplanned pregnancies happen as a result of irresponsible behavior

Unplanned pregnancies are not always a result of unprotected sex. A study from the journal Contraception claims that more than half of abortion patients used some form of contraception prior to getting pregnant, based on data collected in 2000 and 2014. In both years, the most common form of contraception used among abortion patients was condoms (used by their sexual partner), followed by oral contraceptives or birth control pills.

According to WebMD, the effectiveness of condoms at preventing pregnancy changes substantially whether or not they're used correctly. About 18% of women will get pregnant when condoms are used incorrectly. But even if they're used correctly, there's still a 2% chance of getting pregnant. Condoms are among the least effective methods for birth control, but as WebMD points out, they provide additional protection against STDs. Meanwhile, birth control pills are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken perfectly (via the NHS), but this entails taking the pill at the exact same time each day, and it can still fail. Additionally, as the NHS points out, the pill doesn't protect against STDs, so it's still a good idea to use condoms even when taking the pill.

The Cleveland Clinic suggests the IUD is the most effective form of birth control, nearly 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. Unplanned pregnancies can still happen with the IUD, but they are extremely rare.

Myth: Abortion bans reduce the number of abortions

Since the June 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade (via the United States Supreme Court), individual U.S. states now have the ability to ban or restrict abortion in all trimesters of pregnancy. Presumably, those in favor of restricting abortion are hoping that doing so will lead to fewer abortions, but this isn't supported by evidence. A review published in Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology actually found the opposite: Around the world, abortion rates seem to be lowest in Europe, where abortion is mostly legal without restrictions. As the researchers explain, contraceptives are also widely available throughout Europe, which could at least partially explain why abortion rates are lower: Easy access to contraceptives likely means fewer unplanned pregnancies. Meanwhile, in places where abortion is illegal or severely restricted, such as parts of Africa and Latin America, abortion rates are significantly higher.

This is cause for public health concern, as abortions that happen in places where it is illegal or restricted are much more likely to be unsafe. In fact, the review authors note that unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of global maternal mortality, at 13%.

Myth: Abortion is illegal in most of the world

Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, abortion has become a heated political issue in the U.S. (via Reuters). But how do abortion laws look across the rest of the globe? Worldwide, most countries allow abortion in at least some circumstances. According to the World Population Review, there are only a handful of countries where abortion is banned altogether. Many countries allow abortion at any stage of pregnancy with no restrictions, such as Canada, Australia, Russia, most of Europe, and some countries in Asia and the Middle East.

In the U.S., states now have the ability to ban abortion, but it appears most states are not going to ban it completely. An article in The New York Times tracking the status of abortion laws in every state since the overturning of Roe v. Wade shows that it remains legal in most of the country as of this writing. In fact, some states are expanding access to abortion, including New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, and Colorado.

Myth: Abortion does not affect men

Discussions about abortion have a tendency to focus exclusively on childbearing people, but the partners of people who have abortions are part of the equation too. According to a study from Contraception, about 20% of men in the U.S. have knowingly been involved in an abortion. This study looked at two different data sets, one that involved face-to-face interviews versus one that used computer-assisted self-interviewing, and found the proportion was lower in the face-to-face data set (12%). This suggests men were more willing to be honest about their experiences with abortion when they had some privacy.

The New York Times interviewed hundreds of men whose partners had abortions, and found a wide range of experiences. Some were in favor of the abortion, but others were disappointed, having been excited about potentially becoming a father. In fact, The New York Times quotes a study from Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health that claims 57% of men surveyed in a large Midwestern city whose partners had an abortion would not have chosen to end the pregnancy had the decision been theirs. However, nearly all of these men said they wanted to support their partners.

Myth: A majority of Americans support banning abortion

The June 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning of Roe v. Wade isn't a reflection of the preferences of the majority of Americans (via the United States Supreme Court). According to the Pew Research Center, about 62% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 57% disapprove of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Differences in opinions about abortions in the U.S. are split along party lines, with those who identify as Republican or conservative much more likely to approve of the Supreme Court's decision, and those who identify as Democrat or liberal much more likely to disapprove. Differences in gender are much less noticeable: Women are only slightly more likely than men to disapprove of the Supreme Court's decision.

Worldwide, public opinions about abortion may not always reflect the abortion laws in a given country. A poll from Ipsos that interviewed respondents from 27 countries found that most people in these countries believed abortion should be permitted under most circumstances. This was true even among respondents who live in countries that have severe restrictions on abortion.