History in the United States
- In the mid-to-late 1800’s, all states passed laws making it illegal to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. These laws were supported by the medical community, which noted abortion’s moral implications and danger to women.
- During this time period, notable activists in the women’s suffrage movement, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, spoke out against abortion in their efforts to protect women and children.
- The term, “back-alley abortion,” became slang for illegal abortions.
In 1959, efforts to liberalize state abortion laws were mounting, and model legislation to legalize abortion in limited cases was proposed at the state level. Abortion advocates often cited as many as ten thousand illegal abortion deaths each year as reason for legalization. However, statements from those on the forefront of this movement reveal that this number was, at best, unsubstantiated and, at worse, purposefully exaggerated. 1
Another argument for legalizing abortion was that it would enable licensed physicians — rather than unlicensed amateurs — to commit the act. However, in 1960, before abortion was legal, Mary Calderone, former president of Planned Parenthood, wrote that trained physicians performed “90% of illegal abortions.” 2
- In 1968, Colorado, California, North Carolina and Oregon reformed abortion laws to allow abortion in some cases.
- Between 1969-1970, a dozen other states followed suit.
- On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down every state abortion law through two rulings, Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton.
- The number of annual reported abortions in the U.S. peaked in 1990 at 1.4 million abortions before dropping in subsequent years.
- More than one million abortions are performed in the U.S. each year.
- Based on current abortion rates, about one in three women will have an abortion by age 45. 3
- Fourty-four percent of women who had abortions in the U.S. had at least one previous abortion. 4
- Eighty-two percent of women who had abortions in the U.S. were unmarried. 5
- Fifty percent of U.S. women having abortions are younger than 25 years old. 6
Recent public opinion polling indicates a majority of Americans support additional limits on abortion, including bans on late term abortions. They are not comfortable with the virtually unrestricted access it currently enjoys.
Most abortion laws are in effect at the state level. Since Roe and Doe, the US Supreme Court has granted states some latitude in regulating and restricting abortion. As a result, many states have passed measures mandating parental involvement in minor abortion decisions and uniform counseling with reflection periods. A federal ban on a specific type of late-term abortion, “partial birth abortion,” was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2007.
Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Cause for Concern (Abortion)
Abortion poses risks to women and kills their preborn children. At its root, abortion is evidence of a lack of choices for women in unintended pregnancies as well as a societal disrespect for the value of young human life.
Two of the leading reasons women give for aborting their pregnancy are economic in nature: they cannot afford a child, or they fear a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities. An unexpected pregnancy can be life-changing, yet these circumstances can be positively altered if the woman has sufficient support.
Abortion may also bring unexpected consequences for women in the form of physical or psychological complications. Studies show that women who have abortions face a number of possible physical complications, including difficulties with future pregnancies. Psychological risks after an abortion include depression, substance abuse and suicide.
As part of our ministry, Focus on the Family supports efforts to offer women tangible alternatives to abortion.
Women are certainly not the only ones affected by abortion. The preborn baby human at the center of the pregnancy has no choice, or voice, in the abortion decision yet, in most cases, arguably the most to lose. Biologically speaking, human life begins at the single cell stage (fertilization) when sperm and egg join. This is true whether the union occurs in the fallopian tube in a usual pregnancy or outside the human body through assisted reproductive technologies. There is no doubt that this growing entity is fully human and a member of the human family.
And that fact makes abortion a human rights issue. What human rights does the preborn baby possess? Focus on the Family and other pro-life organizations believe the right to life extends to these little ones. Human life — from fertilization to natural death — holds intrinsic and inestimable worth apart from how old you are and where you live.
At the same time, we recognize the difficult circumstances that can surround an unintended pregnancy and affirm the value of the woman’s life that faces such a pregnancy situation. In these instances, we believe giving life to the child is always the best choice — for mother and child.
Our Position (Abortion)
Focus on the Family opposes abortion under all circumstances, except in the rare instance when the mother’s life is threatened by continuing the pregnancy.
At Focus on the Family, we are dedicated to defending the sanctity of human life, and by human life we mean God’s creation from fertilization to natural death. In the beginning, God created the earth and everything in it, including humans. As it says in Psalm 139:13, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
We believe that every human, in every condition from the single cell stage of development to natural death, is made in God’s image and possesses inestimable worth. Abortion runs contrary to these beliefs.
Talking Points (Abortion)
- We desire to end the practice of abortion: making it both illegal and unthinkable.
- Pre-born babies in the womb are indisputably human, and the intentional killing of any human at any stage of development is morally wrong.
- The practice of abortion places women at risk.
- Women having abortions face a number of possible physical complications, including problems with future pregnancies.
- Studies find reported substance abuse and suicide as more common among women who abort their pregnancies as compared to those who give birth.
- We support federal and state legislation placing limits and restrictions on abortion, including:
- State Partial-Birth Abortion bans
- State “Trigger” bans making abortion illegal once Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton are overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Parental Involvement laws requiring a parent’s notification or consent before their minor daughter may have an abortion
- Informed Consent laws requiring that women receive full medical disclosure of possible risks associated with and alternatives to abortion before deciding to have one.
- Waiting or Reflection Period laws requiring a period of time to reflect on the medical information provided before having an abortion.
- Abortion Clinic Regulations laws raising the level of safety and sanitation in freestanding clinics where abortions are performed.
- Fetal Homicide laws recognizing both the mother and preborn child as two individual victims when a violent act is committed against a pregnant woman – injuring or killing her and the fetus.
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional resources and references for further study
Popular questions on this topic:
- How can I become more involved as an advocate for the sanctity of human life?
- What does the Bible say about abortion?
- Does Focus have abortion-related statistics online?
- What can you tell me about the abortion pill, RU-486?
- Where can I find information specifically for pregnancy resource centers?
- Through Christ, I have experienced forgiveness for my past abortion. What can I do to help other post-abortive women overcome their guilt?