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Should Abortion Be Legal?
Should abortion be legal?
The debate over whether or not abortion should be a legal option continues to divide Americans long after the US Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision on Roe v. Wade declared the procedure a "fundamental right” on Jan. 22, 1973.

Proponents, identifying themselves as pro-choice, contend that abortion is a right that should not be limited by governmental or religious authority, and which outweighs any right claimed for an embryo or fetus. They argue that pregnant women will resort to unsafe illegal abortions if there is no legal option.

Opponents, identifying themselves as pro-life, assert that personhood begins at conception, and therefore abortion is the immoral killing of an innocent human being. They say abortion inflicts suffering on the unborn child, and that it is unfair to allow abortion when couples who cannot biologically conceive are waiting to adopt. Read more...

Did You Know?
Pro & Con Arguments
Top Pro & Con Quotes
Video Gallery

Abortion ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents facts, studies, and pro and con statements related to abortion. This pro-con debate revolves around whether or not abortion should be a legal option for terminating pregnancies that do not involve rape, incest, or when a mother’s life is in danger. For brevity we have abbreviated that issue down to the core question "Should abortion be legal?”
Did You Know?
  1. The US abortion rate fell 29% between 1990 and 2005, from 27.4 to 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, before leveling out from 2005-2008. [65]

  2. An abortion can cost anywhere from around $350 to more than $1,000. [33] In 2009, it was estimated that a total of $831 million is spent on abortions annually. [32]

  3. "Back-alley" abortions cause 68,000 maternal deaths each year in the 33 countries where abortion is not legal or available, according to the World Health Organization in Oct. 2006. [11]

  4. Black women are 4.5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, [30] and about 1,876 black fetuses are aborted every day. [31]

  5. 87% of US counties do not provide abortion services. [44]
Share your thoughts on abortion and read, vote on, and reply to existing comments. Join the debate.

Pro & Con Arguments: "Should Abortion Be Legal?"
PRO Legal Abortion

  1. A woman's right to choose abortion is a "fundamental right" recognized by the US Supreme Court. The landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade was decided on Jan. 22, 1973, and remains the law of the land. [49]

  2. Personhood begins at birth, not at conception. Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy, not a baby. Personhood at conception is not a proven biological fact.

  3. Fetuses are incapable of feeling pain when an abortion is performed. According to Stuart W. G. Derbyshire, PhD, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham (England), "[n]ot only has the biological development not yet occurred to support pain experience, but the environment after birth, so necessary to the development of pain experience, is also yet to occur." [10]

  4. Access to legal, professionally-performed abortions reduces injury and death caused by unsafe, illegal abortions. The World Health Organization estimated in 2006 that "back-alley" abortions cause 68,000 maternal deaths each year in countries where abortion is not legal. [11]

  5. The anti-abortion position is usually based on religious beliefs and threatens the vital separation of church and state. Religious ideology should not be a foundation for law in the United States.

  6. Modern abortion procedures are safe. The risk of a woman’s death from abortion is less than one in 100,000, [12] whereas the risk of a woman dying from giving birth is 13.3 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies. [13] Furthermore, a 1993 fertility investigation of 10,767 women by the Joint Royal College of General Practitioners and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that women who had at least two abortions experienced the same future fertility as those who had at least two natural pregnancies. [14]

  7. Access to abortion is necessary because contraceptives are not always readily available. Women need a doctor's prescription to obtain many birth control methods, such as the pill, the patch, the shot, and the diaphragm. About half of all large group insurance plans do not cover any form of prescription contraception, and only a third cover the birth control pill. A July/Aug. 2001 Guttmacher Institute study of health care insurers found that 75% of insured women lacked coverage for contraceptive services. [15] As of 2009, 17 million US women were completely uninsured. [16]

  8. The American Medical Association (AMA) recognizes abortion as a medical procedure if performed by a licensed physician in compliance with good medical practice standards. There are about 1,800 licensed physicians who provide abortions in the United States. These doctors, not politicians, should have the authority to make medical decisions regarding abortion. [17]

  9. Abortion gives couples the option to choose not to bring babies with severe and life-threatening medical conditions to full term. Fragile X syndrome, the most common genetic form of mental retardation, affects about 1 in 4,000 males and 1 in 8,000 females. One in 800 babies have Down Syndrome, and one in 3,500 babies are born with Cystic Fibrosis. [18] It is wrong to sentence a child to life with an acute handicap.

  10. Many women who choose abortion don't have the financial resources to support a child. A Sep. 2005 survey in the peer-reviewed journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health asking women why they had an abortion found that 73% of respondents said they could not afford to have a baby, and 38% said giving birth would interfere with their education and career goals. Reproductive choice protects women from financial disadvantage. [19]

  11. Motherhood must never be a punishment for having sexual intercourse. President Barack Obama said during a Mar. 29, 2008 campaign speech in Johnston, Pennsylvania, "I have two daughters... I'm going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."

  12. A baby should not come into the world unwanted. 49% of all pregnancies among American women are unintended. [50] Having a child is an important lifelong decision that requires consideration, preparation, and planning.

  13. Abortion is an effective tool for population control. Malnutrition, starvation, poverty, lack of medical and educational services, pollution, underdevelopment, and conflict over resources are all consequences of overpopulation. [21]

  14. An association between abortion and breast cancer is unsubstantiated. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have all refuted the reliability of studies claiming abortion can lead to a higher probability of developing breast cancer. [22]

  15. Abortion reduces crime. Some estimates claim legalized abortion accounted for as much as 50% of the drop in murder, property crime, and violent crime between 1973 and 2001. Teenage girls, unmarried women, and poor women are more likely to have unintended pregnancies, and since unwanted babies are often raised in poverty, their chances of leading criminal lives in adulthood are increased. [20]
CON Legal Abortion

  1. Unborn babies are human beings from the moment of conception. They have a fundamental right to life, which must be protected.

  2. Abortion involves killing a human being, which defies a commandment from God. The Sixth Commandment of the Bible's Old Testament (Exodus 20:13) is "Thou shalt not kill." [23]

  3. Fetuses feel pain during the abortion procedure. According to Kanwaljeet J. S. Anand, MBBS, DPhil, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, "If the fetus is beyond 20 weeks of gestation, I would assume that there will be pain caused to the fetus. And I believe it will be severe and excruciating pain." [24]

  4. The original text of the Hippocratic Oath, traditionally taken by doctors when swearing to practice medicine ethically, forbids abortions. One section of the classical version of the oath reads: "I will not give a woman a pessary [a device inserted into the vagina] to cause an abortion." The modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, written in 1964 by Luis Lasagna, still forbids abortion in the line, "Above all, I must not play at God." [25]

  5. Allowing abortion directly contradicts the Founding Fathers' intentions for an unalienable right to life in the United States. The Declaration of Independence [51] states that "[A]ll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

  6. Women should use contraceptives, not abortion, to avoid unwanted pregnancies. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study showed that 19-25% of women who received abortions in 2006 had previously had one or more abortions. [52] If abortion were not available, women would use preventative measures.

  7. Abortions cause psychological damage. A 2002 peer-reviewed study published by the Southern Medical Journal of more than 173,000 American women found that women who aborted were 154% more likely to commit suicide than women who carried to term. [26] An Apr. 1998 Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology study of men whose partners had abortions found that 51.6% of the men reported regret, 45.2% felt sadness, and 25.8% experienced depression. [27]

  8. Abortions reduce the number of adoptable babies. Over two million couples are waiting to adopt, and only 134,000 US children were available to be adopted as of June 2002. [28] [29] The percentage of infants given up for adoption has declined from 9% of those born before 1973 to 1% of those born between 1996 and 2002. [53] Instead of having the option to abort, women should give their unwanted babies to people who cannot conceive.

  9. Selective abortion based on genetic abnormalities (eugenic termination) is overt discrimination. Physical limitations don't make those with disabilities less than human. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [54] provides civil rights protection to people born with disabilities so they can lead fulfilling lives.

  10. Abortion disproportionately harms African Americans. Black women are 4.5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, [30] and 1,876 black babies are aborted every day. Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 Blacks were lynched in the United States, but in less than three days in 2010, a higher number of black babies were killed by abortion. [31]

  11. Abortion providers are in business to make money rather than to assist their clients. The abortion industry generates an estimated $831 million annually. [32] An abortion can cost anywhere from around $350 to more than $1,000. [33]

  12. Abortion eliminates the potential societal contributions of a future human being. The United States would be an entirely different country if the mothers of our nation’s heroes, great presidents, scientists, athletes, and others had chosen abortion.

  13. Abortion increases the likelihood of future miscarriages. A June 2003 study published by the peer-reviewed International Journal of Epidemiology estimated that about 15% of first-trimester miscarriages are attributed to a prior history of induced abortion. [34]

  14. Abortion increases the likelihood that women will develop breast cancer. In early pregnancy, levels of estrogen increase, leading to breast growth in preparation for breastfeeding. When a pregnancy is interrupted by abortion, immature cells are left in the woman's breasts, increasing the potential risk of breast cancer. [35] Since 2006, eight medical organizations, including the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, the Catholic Medical Association, and the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, have recognized the connection between abortion and breast cancer. [36]

  15. The 2001 claim by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt that abortion reduces crime is flawed. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found coding errors in Levitt’s research. Levitt later apologized and said on Nov. 28, 2005 that he was "personally embarrassed" about his errors. [37] [38]
Background: "Should Abortion Be Legal?"
Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators 2004 March for Womens Lives
(Click to enlarge image)
Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators during the 2004 Washington, DC March for Women's Lives protest
Source: Declan McCullagh Photography, www.mccullagh.org (accessed Apr. 1, 2010)
The debate over whether or not abortion should be a legal option continues to divide Americans long after the US Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision on Roe v. Wade [49] declared the procedure a "fundamental right” on Jan. 22, 1973.

Proponents, identifying themselves as pro-choice, contend that abortion is a right that should not be limited by governmental or religious authority, and which outweighs any right claimed for an embryo or fetus. They argue that pregnant women will resort to unsafe illegal abortions if there is no legal option.

Opponents, identifying themselves as pro-life, assert that personhood begins at conception, and therefore abortion is the immoral killing of an innocent human being. They say abortion inflicts suffering on the unborn child, and that it is unfair to allow abortion when couples who cannot biologically conceive are waiting to adopt.

Variations exist in arguments on both sides of the debate. Some pro-choice proponents believe abortion should only be used as a last resort, while others advocate unrestricted access to abortion services under any circumstance. Pro-life positions range from opposing abortion under any circumstance to accepting it for situations of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is at risk.

Some prominent pro-choice organizations include Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Abortion Federation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Organization for Women. Although many pro-life positions derive from religious ideology, several mainstream faith groups support the pro-choice movement, such as the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The 2008 Democratic Party Platform [55] endorsed the pro-choice position, stating, "[We] strongly and unequivocally support Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." However, approximately 35% of Democrats consider themselves pro-life. [8]

Some prominent pro-life organizations include The National Right to Life Committee, Pro-Life Action League, Operation Rescue, the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Americans United for Life, the National Association of Evangelicals, Family Research Council, Christian Coalition of America, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church). [6] The 2008 Republican Party Platform [56] opposed abortion stating, "[A]t its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life. Women deserve better than abortion. Every effort should be made to work with women considering abortion to enable and empower them to choose life." However, about 30% of Republicans are pro-choice. [7]

Cartoon When does life begin?
(Click to enlarge image)
Bob Englehart's 1981 political cartoon "When Does Life Begin?," originally published by The Hartford Courant
Source: "Cartoon Plagiarism Case Offers a Metaphor for the Abortion Debate," www.ideagrove.com, Nov. 15, 2005
A May 2009 Gallup poll on abortion attitudes revealed that 51% of Americans consider themselves pro-life and 42% pro-choice. It was the first time since 1995, when the poll first started, that a majority of Americans identified as pro-life, and it was the first time since 2000 that more people were pro-life than pro-choice. [9]

Surgical abortion (aka suction curettage or vacuum curettage) is the most common type of abortion procedure. It involves using a suction device to remove the contents of a pregnant woman's uterus. The second most common abortion procedure, a medical abortion (aka an "abortion pill"), involves taking medications, usually mifepristone and misoprostol (aka RU-486), within the first seven to nine weeks of pregnancy to induce an abortion. [39] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the majority (62%) of abortions performed in 2006 were performed at less than eight weeks of gestation. [40]

In 1821, Connecticut became the first state to criminalize abortion. It banned the selling of an abortion-inducing poison to women, but it did not punish the women who took the poison. Legal consequences for women began in 1845 when New York criminalized a woman's participation in her abortion. [41] By the early 1900s, influenced primarily by physicians fearing its safety, most states had banned abortion. By 1965, all 50 states had outlawed abortion, with some exceptions varying by state. [42]

Federal action on abortion didn't occur until Roe v. Wade, which declared most state anti-abortion laws unconstitutional. The high court’s 7-2 decision established rules based on a pregnancy trimester framework, banning legislative interference in the first trimester of pregnancy, and allowing states to regulate abortion during the second trimester (weeks 13-28) and third trimester (weeks 29-40), but only when "related to maternal health." Immediately following Roe v. Wade, pro-life proponents pushed for federal legislation that would restrict abortion. In 1976, Congress passed the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services) which included an amendment ending Medicaid funding for abortions. Known as the "Hyde Amendment," this provision banning federal funding for abortions has been renewed with various revisions every year since its inception. On June 29, 1992 the US Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey [57] (5-4) upheld the constitutional right to have an abortion, but it abandoned the trimester framework outlined in Roe v. Wade and adopted a less restrictive standard for state regulations.

Demonstrators holding pro-choice and pro-life signs
(Click to enlarge image)
Demonstrators holding pro-choice and pro-life signs
Source: "New Pew Poll Shows Support for Legal Abortion Drops to Lowest Level in 15 Years," LifeNews.com, Apr. 29, 2009
From Roe v. Wade through 2005, more than 45 million legal abortions were performed - an average of about 1.3 million abortions per year (1.6 million in 1990, 1.2 million in 2005). [1] [65] One out of five pregnancies end in abortion, women aged 20-29 receive 55% of all abortions, and 40% of all women have an abortion by the age of 45. [2] [3] The US abortion rate fell 29% between 1990 and 2005, from 27.4 to 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, before leveling out from 2005-2008, according to a Mar. 2011 Guttmacher Institute study. [65] The National Right-to-Life Committee said increased promotion of RU-486 as a "safe and simple" option was responsible for ending the decline in abortion rates. Pro-choice groups attributed it to increased economic pressures facing poor women, who chose to undergo abortions rather than face the cost of raising a child. [66]

On Nov. 5, 2003, after passing in the US House of Representatives (281-142) and the US Senate (64-34), the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 [58] was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This federal legislation banned physicians from providing intact dilation and extraction (aka "partial-birth" abortion), a late-term (after 21 weeks gestation) method which comprised 0.17% of abortion procedures in 2000. [43] The act defines a "partial-birth abortion" as "an abortion in which the [provider] deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until... the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or... any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus." Pro-choice advocates challenged the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003; however, the Apr. 18, 2007 US Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Carhart/Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood [59] upheld the act, ruling (5-4) that it did not impose "an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion."

Although there are about 1,800 abortion providers in the United States, 87% of US counties do not provide abortion services. [44] Between 1982 and 2000, the number of abortion providers declined by about 38%. [45] Pro-choice advocates believe increased clinic violence contributed to this downward trend. The National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion practitioners, estimates that over 200 arson and bombing incidents were committed against abortion clinics between 1996-2007. Additionally, nine abortion physicians have been murdered between 1993 and 2009. [46] Mainstream pro-life leaders and organizations have publicly denounced extremism against abortion providers and clinics.

World Aportion Laws Map
(Click to enlarge image)
The world’s abortion laws, 2007
Source: Center for Reproductive Rights,
www.reproductiverights.org, July 2007
At the Aug. 1984 United Nations International Conference on Population held in Mexico City, Mexico, President Ronald Reagan announced the Mexico City Policy, [60] which restricted all non-governmental organizations funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from performing or promoting abortion services. President Bill Clinton rescinded the policy on Jan. 22, 1993, and on Jan. 22, 2001, President George W. Bush reenacted it. On Jan. 23, 2009, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum [61] again rescinding the policy stating that its conditions "undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning programs in foreign nations."

The topic of abortion flared in the 2010 US Congress health care debate. Abortion opponents in both the House of Representatives and the Senate did not want recipients of insurance subsidies to use federal funding for abortions. Pro-choice proponents argued that abortion should not be treated differently than other health care services. The health care reform bill passed its final congressional vote (219-212) in the House of Representatives on Mar. 21, 2010 and on Mar. 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. [62] The following day, Mar. 24, 2010, the president signed an executive order [63] "to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services," re-affirming Hyde Amendment restrictions in the new health care legislation.

State abortion measures sparked public attention in 2010 and 2011. On Apr. 13, 2010, Nebraska's Republican Governor Dave Heineman signed a law banning abortions at or after 20 weeks gestation on the theory that a fetus can feel pain by that point in pregnancy. The law was the first in the US to restrict abortions based on fetal pain. [47] On Apr. 27, 2010, the Oklahoma legislature signed a law requiring pregnant women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus's heart, limbs, and organs. While other states have passed laws requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, Oklahoma's law was the first that required women to watch the monitor and listen to a detailed description of the fetus. [48] On Mar. 29, 2011, Arizona became the first state to criminalize abortions based on the sex or race of a fetus. The bill, signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, was opposed by Democrats, who said there was little evidence that sex- or race-selection abortions were taking place in the state. [64]
Video Gallery (click to watch video)

NARAL Pro-Choice America video commemorating the organization's 40th anniversary and reaffirming support for Roe v. Wade.
Source: 40 Years of NARAL Pro-Choice America, YouTube.com (accessed June 1, 2011)
CBS - KBTX interviews Abby Johnson on why she quit her job as Director of Planned Parenthood's Bryan, Texas clinic to join the pro-life group Coalition for Life.
Source: "Planned Parenthood Director Leaves, Has Change of Heart," YouTube.com, Nov. 2, 2009
Late pro-life advocate Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortion provider and co-founder of NARAL Pro-Choice America, discusses why he thinks abortion is wrong in his 1984 film The Silent Scream.
Source: The Silent Scream, YouTube.com (accessed Apr. 1, 2010)
Walter Cronkite, former CBS Evening News Anchorman, reports on abortion in 1965 when it was illegal (pre-Roe v. Wade).
Source: "Public Eye: Abortion in 1965," CBSNews.com,
(accessed Apr. 1, 2010)

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