5 minute read


Definition Of Abortion, Reasons For Abortions, When And How Abortions Are Performed, Risks Of AbortionSocial Responses To Abortion

Abortion is one of the most difficult, controversial, and painful subjects in modern society. The principal controversy revolves around the questions of who makes the decision concerning abortion, the individual or the state; under what circumstances it may be done; and who is capable of making the decision. Medical questions such as techniques of abortion are less controversial but are sometimes part of the larger debate.

Abortion is not new in human society; a study by the anthropologist George Devereux (1955) showed that more than 300 contemporary human nonindustrial societies practiced abortion. Women have performed abortions on themselves or experienced abortions at the hands of others for thousands of years (Potts, Diggory, and Peel 1977), and abortions continue to occur today in developing areas under medically primitive conditions. However, modern technology and social change have made abortion a part of modern health care. At the same time, abortion has become a political issue in some societies and a flash point for disagreements about the role of women and individual autonomy in life decisions.

The various social responses to abortion range from those of the individual and her immediate circle of family and friends to the organizational, community, and even national levels. Each culture and society has specific ways of dealing with unplanned or unwanted pregnancy and with abortion. These traditions are changing rapidly in the modern world.


Adler, N. E.; David, H. P.; Major, B. N.; Roth, S. H.; Russo, N. F.; and Wyatt, D. E. (1990). "Psychological Responses after Abortion." Science 248:41–44.

Alan Guttmacher Institute. (1999). Sharing Responsibiity: Women, Society and Abortion Worldwide. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Armijo, R., and Monreal, T. (1965). "The Epidemiology of Provoked Abortion in Santiago, Chile." In Population Dynamics, ed. M. Muramatsu and P. A. Harper. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Bankole, A.; Singh, S.; and Haas, T. (1998). "Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries." International Family Planning Perspectives 24(3):117–127.

Bankole, A.; Singh, S.; and Haas, T. (1999)."Characteristics of Women Who Obtain Induced Abortion: A Worldwide Review." International Family Planning Perspectives 25(2):68–77.

Cates, W., Jr. (1982). "Abortion: The Public Health Record." Science 215:1586.

David, H. P.; Dytrych, Z.; Matejcek, Z.; and Schuller, V. (1988). Born Unwanted: Developmental Effects of Denied Abortion. New York: Springer.

Devereux, G. (1955). A Study of Abortion in Primitive Society. New York: Julian Press.

Early, J. D., and Peters, J. F. (1990). The Population Dynamics of the Mucajai Yanomama. San Diego: Academic Press.

Goldberg, H.; Melnikova, N.; Buslayeva, E.; and Zakhozha, V. (2001). 1999 Ukraine Reproductive Health Survey. Final Report, September, 2001. Atlanta: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Grobstein, C. (1988). Science and the Unborn. New York: Basic Books.

Handwerker, W. P. (1990). Births and Power: Social Change and the Politics of Reproduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Henshaw, S. K. (1999). "Unintended Pregnancy and Abortion: A Public Health Perspective." In A Clinician's Guide to Medical and Surgical Abortion, ed. M. Paul, E. S. Lichtenberg, L. Borgatta, D.A. Grimes, and P.G. Stubblefield. New York: Churchill.

Henshaw, S. K., and Morrow, E. (1990). "Induced Abortion: A World Review," 1990 supplement. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Henshaw, S. K., and Van Vort, J. (1992). Abortion Factbook, 1992 Edition: Readings, Trends, and State and Local Data to 1988. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Hern, W. M. (1975). "Laminaria in Abortion: Use in 1368 Patients in First Trimester." Rocky Mountain Medical Journal 72:390–395.
Hern, W. M. (1982). "Long-term Risks of Induced Abortion." In Gynecology and Obstetrics, ed. J. J. Sciarra. Philadelphia: Harper and Row.

Hern, W. M. (1988). "The Use of Prostaglandins as Abortifacients." In Gynecology and Obstetrics, ed. J. J. Sciarra. Philadelphia: Harper and Row.

Hern, W. M. (1990). Abortion Practice. Boulder, CO: Alpenglo Graphics.

Hern, W. M. (2001). "Laminaria, Induced Fetal Demise, and Misoprostol in Late Abortion." International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 75:279–286.

Hern, W. M.; Zen, C.; Ferguson, K. A.; Hart, V.; and Haseman, M. V. (1993). "Late Abortion for Fetal Anomaly and Fetal Death: Techniques and Clinical Management." Obstetrics and Gynecology 81:301–306.

Hodgson, J. (1981). Abortion and Sterilization: Medical and Social Aspects. London: Academic Press.

Hogue, C. J. R.; Cates, W., Jr.; and Tietze, C. (1982). "The Effects of Induced abortion on Subsequent Reproduction." Epidemiologic Reviews 4:66.

Joffe, C. (1999). "Abortion in Historical Perspective." In A Clinician's Guide to Medical and Surgical Abortion, ed. M. Paul, E. S. Lichtenberg, L. Borgatta, D. A. Grimes, and P. G. Stubblefield. New York: Churchill Livingstone.

Kolata, G. (1992). "In Late Abortions, Decisions Are Painful and Options Few." New York Times, January 5.

Koonin, L. M.; Atrash, H. K.; Lawson, H. W.; Smith, J. C. (1991b). Maternal Mortality Surveillance, United States, 1979–1986. CDC Surveillance Summaries, July, 1991, MMWR 40(No. SS-2):1–13.

Koonin, L. M.; Kochanek, K. D.; Smith, J. C.; Ramick, M. (1991a). Abortion Surveillance, United States, 1988. CDC Surveillance Summaries, July, 1991, MMWR 40(No. SS-2):15–42.

Koonin, L. M.; Smith, J. C.; Ramick, M.; and Lawson, H. W. (1992). Abortion Surveillance, United States, 1989. CDC Surveillance Summaries, September 4, 1992, MMWR 41(No. SS-5):1–33.

Lee, N. H. (1969). The Search for an Abortionist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lerner, M., and Anderson, O. W. (1963). Health Progress in United States: 1900–1960. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Otoide, V.O.; Oronsaye, F.; and Okonofua, F.E. (2001). "Why Nigerian Adolescents Seek Abortion Rather Than Contraception: Evidence From Focus-Group Discussions." International Family Planning Perspectives 27(2):77–81.

Potts, M.; Diggory, P.; and Peel, J. (1977). Abortion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Requena, M. (1965). "Social and Economic Correlates of Induced Abortion in Santiago, Chile." Demography 2:33.

Serbanescu, F.; Morris, L.; and Marin, M. (2001). Reproductive Health Survey, Romania, 1999. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Shepherd, J. R. (1995). Marriage and Mandatory Abortion Among the 17th Century Suraya. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

Singh, S., and Henshaw, S. K. (1996). "The Incidence of Abortion: A World-wide Overview Focusing on Methodology and on Latin America." In International Union for the Scientific Study of Population: Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion in a Changing World. Liège, Belgium: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

Tietze, C., and Lewit, S. (1972). "Joint Program for the Study of Abortion ( JPSA): Early Complications of Medical Abortion." Studies in Family Planning 3:97.

World Health Organization, Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood Programme (1994). Abortion: A Tabulation of Available Data On The Frequency and Mortality of Unsafe Abortion. 2nd edition. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Other Resources

Alan Guttmacher Institute. Available from http://www.agi-usa.org.

International Society of Abortion Doctors. Available from http://www.isad.org.

National Abortion Federation. Available from http://www.prochoice.org.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Social Issues