# 1

Women can control whether or not they get pregnant

Fertility is not always within women’s control. The idea that all women can control their fertility wrongly assumes that:

  • Contraception is always 100% available and foolproof.
  • Women are always in a position to say no to sex.
  • Women should just abstain from sex if they don’t want to get pregnant.

Studies have shown that between half and two-thirds of all women who have an abortion were using contraception at the time they became pregnant. No contraception is guaranteed to be 100% effective all the time, not even sterilization. Also, people may make mistakes and not always use birth control correctly. Sex and contraception are two areas where human beings and their relationships can be unpredictable and disorganized. To illustrate, a woman is fertile for 35 years, so trying to avoid pregnancy for most of that time is a major challenge. Similarly, if a person drives a car for 35 years, sooner or later they will most likely have at least one accident. It is also unreasonable and moralizing to judge women for having sex for pleasure, since sex is such an important, basic urge.

Furthermore, sex (or unsafe sex) is not always voluntary. Many women seeking abortion have not been in a position to freely agree to sex, or they may be pressured or forced to have unprotected sex. Men can also use condoms incorrectly.

Often, the best methods of contraception are unavailable or unaffordable. 214 million women in the world have an unmet need for contraception, mostly in developing countries. This myth is especially ironic in light of the fact that the anti-choice movement works to deny contraception to women, including trying to ban it or defund it.

Women may not not always wish to use contraception for a variety of reasons. The circumstances of women’s lives and their health – irregular periods, menopause, drug use, medical conditions, stress – will also affect fertility and contraceptive use. Further, people may get caught up in a moment of spontaneous passion and are not prepared to use birth control, or don’t want to interrupt or end the encounter.  Birth control can be a hassle to use and can reduce sexual pleasure, so people should be forgiven for not using it consistently.

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute: Adding It Up: Investing in Contraception and Maternal and Newborn Health, 2017

Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria Australia: Abortion: the Myths

Population Reference Bureau, Unmet Need for Contraception: Fact Sheet

# 2

Women use abortion as a method of birth control

Having abortions instead of using birth control is not something women want to do. This myth assumes that women are irresponsible, and that having an abortion is easier than using contraception. The decision to have an abortion is not, for most women, a trivial matter. Further, abortion is inaccessible to many women, which prevents it from being a chosen or viable primary method of birth control.

Most abortions are the result of failed contraception or other factors that made using contraception difficult. If contraception is easily available, most sexually active women are very conscientious contraceptors. Even so, between half and two-thirds of women who get abortions reported using contraception during the month they became pregnant. We know that:

  • No form of contraception is 100% effective, including sterilization.
  • All modern methods of contraception have some associated risks and side effects.
  • Finding suitable contraception is very difficult for some women, and access is a challenge in some countries.
  • Sexual behaviour is not always consensual or predictable.

Even when legal, abortion can be hard to access in many parts of the world. It requires time and money to get one, as it is not funded in many countries. In the U.S., the average cost of an abortion in 2017 was $451 (USD), while later abortions can cost thousands of dollars. Many women also need to take time off work and travel long distances to find services.

The average person using abortion as birth control would become pregnant two to three times per year and would therefore need two to three abortions per year. This would be extremely difficult to manage and doesn’t align with statistics on who gets abortions: 61% of patients in the U.S. are in their twenties, 75% are economically disadvantaged, and 59% have children (2014 figures). These are not people who can spend thousands of dollars every year. Further, while almost half of all American women will have a second abortion over their lifetime, far fewer have 3 or more. High repeat abortion rates are associated with life challenges (e.g., partner abuse, addiction issues), as well as a lack of available, effective contraception.

Sources:

Government of South Australia, Myths and facts about abortion

Options for Sexual Health, Common abortion myths and facts

Everyday Feminism, 6 abortion Myths Debunked (2014)

Think Progress , Pricing American Women Out Of Abortion, One Restriction at A Time, by Tara Culp-Ressler (2015)

Guttmacher Institute, Induced Abortion in the United States, 2013

Guttmacher Institute, Repeat Abortion, Repeat Unintended Pregnancy, Repeated and Misguided Government Policies (2007)

# 3

Only selfish and irresponsible women have abortions

This myth is built on sexism. Women who choose to remain childless are often portrayed as being self-centered and uncaring. People attribute abortion to selfishness because women are expected to put themselves last (in relation to other people) and to always take on the role of nurturer and caregiver. This myth of self-sacrifice exists because of the ways that society has constructed womanhood: women are valued primarily for their beauty and for their role as mothers. But women are not sacrificial lambs – they have a right to live their lives.

Many factors go into deciding to terminate a pregnancy; it’s not an easy or simple decision. But it is generally a responsible decision, because women know when they are not ready to care for a child, or another child. Having an abortion is really about good motherhood, and ensuring the best welfare for your family and your future.

Most people who get abortions are young and/or low-income, meaning that they probably aren’t ready or in the best position to take on parenthood. For example, Lori writes: “I had an abortion when I had just turned 16. I came from a poverty-stricken, dysfunctional family and honestly didn’t know how easily one could become pregnant. I knew bringing a baby into the world I was living in would not be fair. The child would have grown up as poor as I was, would live in a dysfunctional family just as I was, and would have little hope for a future. I feel that I made the best decision a mother could for a baby.”

The decision of if, when, and how to have children is completely yours to make.

Sources:

Everydayfeminism.com – 6 Abortion Myths We Need to Put to Rest Once and For All

# 4

Women have no right to decide over another’s life

An embryo or fetus is not “another life”. It’s the fruit of a woman’s womb and totally dependent on her. Compelling her to carry a pregnancy to term makes her the slave of the embryo/fetus, inflicting servitude and forced labour upon her, which is forbidden by Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Society has no right to prioritize fetal life over women’s lives. It is a fundamental human right to control one’s fertility (CEDAW). When pregnant women are prohibited from having abortions, they no longer have a right to life themselves, and become second-class citizens under the law. When abortion is outlawed and/or fetal rights are protected by law, women’s bodies, rights, and health are subordinated to the protection of embryos.

Prior to legal abortion in any country, women had two options: to undergo an unsafe, illegal abortion that put their lives at risk or to continue their pregnancy, even in situations that disadvantaged both the woman and fetus.The legal consequences of anti-abortion laws are catastrophic, as we’ve seen in Romania, Ireland, Nicaragua, Brazil, Poland, much of Africa, and other places where abortion is outlawed. Today, an estimated 22,000 to 43,000 women die every year and over 8 million are injured from unsafe abortion.

Sources:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – Article 16, Marriage and Family

serendip.brynmawr.edu – Abortion and Women’s Rights: Unification of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice through Feminism (2008)

International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics  (link goes to author’s blog) – A call for consensus and cooperation to resolve differing estimates of abortion-related deaths (2016)

Guttmacher Institute – Banning abortion endangers women’s health

# 5

A religious woman would never have an abortion

Women of all different religions seek abortion. In the U.S., Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as other women, despite strict Catholic Church teaching against abortion. Fifteen percent of American women having abortions attend church once or more a week, while another 45 percent attend less frequently. Almost three-quarters of American women having abortions report a religious affiliation.

A number of religious organizations worldwide support a woman’s right to choose freely between continuing the pregnancy, adoption, or abortion. Abortion is not condemned in the sacred texts of most religions, and all religions have liberal streams of thought that support the right to abortion. For more information, see:

Sources:

Guttmacher Institute – Induced Abortion in the U.S. (2017)

# 6

Only certain ‘types’ of women have unplanned pregnancies and abortions

All kinds of women, from diverse and varied backgrounds, experience unplanned pregnancy – including even anti-abortion women.

Only a minority are teenagers.
• Out of 40 countries with legal abortion, adolescents accounted for a smaller share of abortions than their share of the population. In North America, women aged 19 and under have 18% of abortions, while in Europe it’s only 11% overall.

• In Australia, about 90% of women contacting a Pregnancy Advisory Service at a women’s hospital over a 12-month period were aged 18–40+. Only 7.1% were under 18.

It’s women from all over the world
• Abortion is practiced widely by women everywhere, across all social classes, and regardless of laws against abortion.

• Women from every country, language group, religion, and socio-economic background seek abortion.

It’s both women who are already mothers and those who aren’t. 

• In a one-year period, approximately 50% of women who contacted the Pregnancy Advisory Service at a women’s hospital in Australia because of an unplanned pregnancy already had children.

• In the U.S. 59% of women having abortions are already mothers with at least one child.

• 45% of American women having abortions are married or cohabiting.

Sources:

“The only moral abortion is my abortion” (2000)

Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria Australia – Abortion: the myths

Guttmacher Institute – Induced abortion in the U.S. (2017)

Guttmacher Institute – Induced abortion worldwide (2016)

Obstetrics & Gynecology – Changes in Abortion Rates Between 2000 and 2008 and Lifetime Incidence of Abortion (2011)

# 7

Women who have abortions do not appreciate the value of motherhood

Abortion and motherhood are not in opposition to each other.

Most women are very cognizant of the demands of parenthood and want to have a family only when the time is right. They are concerned about their ability to provide a stable environment for themselves and their children. Often their decision to have an abortion is influenced by the desire to do the best they can for the child or children they already have. Most women having abortions (59% in the U.S.) already have at least one child. They fully understand the responsibility of parenting and what it would mean to have another child without having adequate resources to ‘do it properly’. This puts them in the best position to make a decision about whether to continue with a pregnancy.

This means that deciding to have an abortion can be a very unselfish and responsible act. In fact, abortion is about good motherhood because it enables women to take care of their existing families, and/or to have future children when they’re able to give them the love and resources that they need.

“Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. Abortion is profamily, prolife, moral, and good. For many millions of women, abortion has meant getting on with their lives and continuing to meet their responsibilities to themselves, their families, and society.” – Patricia W. Lunneborg, author of Abortion: A Positive Decision.

This myth also serves to create a false and sexist division between ‘normal’ women who are ‘natural’ mothers, and ‘abnormal’ women who do not become parents for a variety of personal reasons. Men’s choices about whether or not to have a family, for example, are rarely judged in the same way.

Sources:

Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria, Australia – Abortion: The Myths

Abortion: A Positive Decision

Guttmacher Institute – Induced abortion in the U.S. (2017)

# 8

Minors require parental consent for abortion

There should be no precise age limits for abortion. In countries such as Canada, the “mature minor” doctrine means that doctors are given the discretion to ensure that minors are mature enough to make their own decision, and are not being coerced by anyone. In other countries, abortion can be provided to girls under the age of 16 without parental consent, but with informed consent of the patient.

In Austrian law, only minors under 14 years of age need the approval of a parent or legal guardian. The law stipulates that for a woman aged 14 – 18, only she herself can consent to a medical treatment, provided she has the ability to understand the procedure and make a decision. If there is doubt as to her ability, it will be assumed that she is able to understand and decide. If the minor lacks the ability to understand and decide on a treatment, the approval of a parent or legal guardian is required.

In the U.S., 37 states require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion. These laws simply place cruel and unnecessary obstacles in their path, and can create risks to their health and life.  Teenagers with a difficult or abusive home life may not be safe if they inform their parents.  Also, it means that parents could unethically force a teenager to have a baby against her will, thereby compromising her health and her future.


Sources:

Abortion Legislation in Europe

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Injustice and Harms of Parental Consent Laws for Abortion (2014)

Guttmacher Institute – Parental involvement in minors’ abortions (2017)

# 9

Some women have already had 6-7 abortions

In the U.S., about half of women who have abortions have had no previous abortions, and 29 percent have had only one previous abortion. Considering that most women are fertile for more than 30 years, and that birth control is not perfect, the likelihood of having one or two unintended pregnancies is very high. When a woman falls accidentally pregnant and doesn’t want to be, there is only one treatment: abortion. Women should therefore not be judged for having more than one abortion, or restricted from doing so.

Statistically, it’s important to understand that once abortion has been legal for many years in a country, more women will have additional abortions as time passes – however, the number of subsequent abortions should stabilize in a few decades, as it now has in the United States. Further, if contraception is easily accessible, it should reduce the rate of subsequent abortions.

A high number of abortions over a woman’s lifetime usually reflects a severe lack of access to contraception in her country (such as in Russia).  However, some research has also suggested that certain women are more fertile than other women, which may cause difficulties in finding an effective birth control method. For example, a Canadian study showed that some women ovulate twice a month, which can put them at much higher risk of unintended pregnancy.

Sources:

New Scientist – Women can ovulate more than once a month (2003)

Guttmacher Institute – Repeat Abortion in the United States (2006)

Guttmacher Institute, Repeat Abortion, Repeat Unintended Pregnancy, Repeated and Misguided Government Policies (2007)

# 10

Many women have abortions until shortly before birth

This myth is an outrageous statement, and very insulting to women (and doctors). Where abortion is legal, late abortions are only performed in cases where it is strictly medically necessary, in most cases when the fetus has severe abnormalities, or sometimes when the woman’s health or life is seriously at risk. Where abortion is restricted or illegal however, unscrupulous people may offer (unsafe) abortion to vulnerable, desperate women late in pregnancy.

Canada is the only democratic country in the world with no abortion laws, not even gestational limits. Yet, Canadian women rarely have abortions in the third trimester, and only for the above-noted reasons. Abortions after fetal viability are rare because:

  • As long as abortion is legal and reasonably accessible, the vast majority of women will present as early as possible. Easy access equals early access. In most countries where abortion is safe and legal, at least 90% of abortions are performed in the first trimester. Most of the rest are done by 16 or 18 weeks, with only a very tiny number done in the third trimester. In Canada for example, the rate of abortions after 22 weeks LMP (after last menstrual period) is estimated to be 0.59% for 2015.
  • Most abortion providers only perform abortions in the first or perhaps early second trimester. Only a handful of doctors have the ability and willingness to perform third-trimester abortions. No reputable doctor would perform such an abortion without a compelling reason and a supportive institution and medical team. Third-trimester abortions are complicated and difficult ordeals for both the woman and the doctor, and are never undertaken lightly.

Sources:
sisterresist.wordpress.com

Daily Beast: Why the Women Went to Kermit Gosnell Were Desperate (2013)

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada:
•  Benefits of Decriminalization (2013)
•  Statistics – Abortion in Canada (2017)

# 11

Only women get abortions

Abortion rhetoric is highly gendered. It’s often not acknowledged that abortion patients are not exclusively ciswomen (women born women).

There are many transgender men who sometimes need access to abortion and other related reproductive care. There are also many trans people who don’t fall into the gender binary but still need abortions – i.e, people who don’t identify as either male or female, or perhaps as a third gender.  The fact that abortion is so often framed from a woman’s perspective means that those who are marginalized in other ways are not being heard and their stories aren’t seen as important.

Reproductive rights activists and healthcare providers have traditionally discriminated against transgender people through exclusion and lack of recognition.  We must stand with transgender people. This does not mean erasing ciswomen from our language, but including transgender people in our discussions, recognizing their unique (as well as similar) needs, and ensuring they receive the care and respect they deserve.

Sources:

everydayfeminism.com – 6 Abortion Myths We Need to Put to Rest Once and For All (2014)

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada – Transgender Inclusivity (2015)