1 in 4 Women Get Abortions. How Do Guilt and Denial Influence Our Debate?

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Nearly one in 20 women will procure an abortion in her first 20 years of life, according to a recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. By age 30, that number approaches one in five. By age 45, nearly a quarter of American women will abort a child.

Such a staggering figure provokes disbelief. It must be a statistical sleight of hand — a small number of women obtaining many abortions, while the overwhelming majority of women abstain entirely, leaving an average of one in four. Some women do indeed procure multiple abortions. Nevertheless, according to the Guttmacher analysis, the one-in-four statistic reflects individual women. “We used age-specific first abortion rates to estimate the lifetime incidence of abortion,” write the authors of the study. No matter how many abortions a woman will procure during her lifetime, roughly one in four will obtain at least one.

For decades, the pro-life movement has focused on scientific evidence and ethical arguments. That strategy has helped to turn state law and public opinion increasingly against abortion. But if the one-in-four number is correct, evidence and arguments alone will never suffice. What role must guilt and denial play in many Americans’ refusal to acknowledge the reality of abortion? One in four American women will kill at least one of her children. As many as one in four American men will see, actively or passively, at least one of his children killed. If abortion ends a human life, then a quarter of Americans are murderers.

From a scientific perspective, abortion does indeed end a human life. In 1.3% of cases, women abort babies so fully formed they have fingerprints. Over 5% of abortions involve babies developed enough to hiccup. Well over one in ten abortions kills a baby who can swim, cry, and suck his thumb. In nearly one in five cases, mothers abort babies whose fingers, toes, and teeth they might have been glimpsed on an ultrasound. Over a third of the time, abortion kills babies with detectable brain waves.
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