Coerced abortion

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Here are some links for major articles related to coerced and pressured abortions.

Some Notable Studies

Reasons for induced abortion and their relation to women's emotional distress: a prospective, two-year follow-up study. Broen AN, Moum T, Bodtker AS, Ekeberg O. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 2005, 27:36-43.

OBJECTIVE: The present study aimed to identify the most important reasons for induced abortion and to examine their relationship to emotional distress at follow-up. METHODS: Eighty women were included in the study. The women were interviewed 10 days, 6 months (T2) and 2 years (T3) after they underwent an abortion. At all time points, the participants completed the Impact of Event Scale and a questionnaire about feelings connected to the abortion. RESULTS: Reasons related to education, job and finances were highly rated. Also, "a child should be wished for," "male partner does not favour having a child at the moment," "tired, worn out" and "have enough children" were important reasons. "Pressure from male partner" was listed as the 11th most important reason. When the reasons for abortion and background variables were included in multiple regression analyses, the strongest predictor of emotional distress at T2 and T3 was "pressure from male partner." CONCLUSION: Male pressure on women to have an induced abortion has a significant, negative influence on women's psychological responses in the 2 years following the event. Women who gave the reason "have enough children" for choosing abortion reported slightly better psychological outcomes at T3.

Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women. Rue VM, Coleman PK, Rue JJ, Reardon DC. Med Sci Monit, 2004 10(10): SR5-16.

MATERIAL/METHODS: Retrospective data were collected using the Institute for Pregnancy Loss Questionnaire (IPLQ) and the Traumatic Stress Institute's (TSI) Belief Scale administered at health care facilities to 548 women (331 Russian and 217 American) who had experienced one or more abortions, but no other pregnancy losses.
Notes relative to pressure and decision making: From Table 4: 64.0% of American women felt pressured by others to agree to an abortion. 17.7% desired the pregnancy and 11.6% were ambivalent. 39.3% felt emotionally close or attached to the pregnancy, 36% were uncertain, and only 24.8% said there was no attachment. 71.2% report the pregnancy was not wanted by their male partner. 51.2% said they did not have enough time to make their decisions. 50.7% believed abortion was morally wrong and were acting against their conscience. Only 17.5% reported they were given adequate alternatives counseling.

Reasons U.S. women have abortions: quantitative and qualitative perspectives. Finer LB, Frohwirth LF, Dauphinee L a, Singh S, Moore AM.Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2005;37(3):110-118. doi:10.1363/psrh.37.110.05.

From Table 2: Women reported the reason for their abortion was, at least in part, because "husband or partner wants me to have an abortion" (14% in 2004, 24% in 1987) or "parents want me to have an abortion" (6% in 2004, 8% in 1987).

The Relationship of Abortion and Violence Against Women : Violence Prevention Strategies and Research Needs. Issues Law Med. 2015;30(2):111-127. Coyle C, Shuping M, Speckhard A, Brightup JE.

Reviews of the literature regarding coercion by individuals and coercion in regard to sex trafficking. Includes a number of sources not yet covered on this page.

Coercion and/or Pressure. Coyle CT. In: MacNair RM, ed. Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion. Vol Kansas City. MO: Feminism & Nonviolence Studies Association; 2016.

An expanded version of the the coercion section found in the above article.

*Mueller, P. & Major, B., “Self-blame, Self-efficacy and Adjustment to Abortion,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57:1059-1068 (1989).

Lack of support from male partner predicts greater post-abortion distress.

*Vaughan, H.P., Canonical Variates of Post Abortion Syndrome (Portsmouth, NH: Institute for Pregnancy Loss, 1990). 50.

Feeling pressured associated with more negative reactions.

Zimmerman, M., Passage Through Abortion (New York:Praeger Publishers, 1977).

In an in-depth study of 40 U.S. women undergoing abortion in 1973 The male partner played a central role in the abortion experience for 38 out of 40 women. In 20% of the cases resulting in abortion the woman initially wanted to have the baby, but the man was opposed. In addition, 16 males stated they agreed with the decision of abortion while 8 disagreed with the decision of abortion. Opposition by the male was disruptive for the woman. Fifty percent terminated their relationship with the man involved in the pregnancy. Abortion appeared to assist in a decision for marriage in 3 cases. Six women reported no change in their relationships. Women overwhelmingly denied their own responsibility in having the abortion in an attempt to view themselves as "moral" persons. Two out of 3 said they had "no choice" in the matter of abortion or were "forced" to have an abortion.

"Psychologic and Emotional Consequences of Elective Abortion: A Review," G.S. Walter, Obstetrics and Gynecology 36(3):482-491, September 1970.

It is known that women seeking abortion may do so at the insistence of partners whose neurotic behavior is being acted out upon their wives. Citing several studies.

Husbands of Abortion Applicants: A Comparison With Husbands of Women Who Complete Their Pregnancies, F. Lieh-Mak., Y. Tam and S. Ng, Social Psychiatry 14:59- 64(1979).

In a Hong Kong study of 130 husbands of women seeking abortions, 44% of the husbands instigated the abortion with economic reasons being predominant. Characteristics of husbands of women seeking abortion were compared to husbands of women who delivered. More abortion husbands reported poor relationships with either or both parents. 27% of the abortion husbands reported psychiatric illness in the family compared to 8% of the controls; abortion husbands had a higher prevalence of alcoholism, drug dependency, neurosis and compulsive gambling compared to controls. An unhappy childhood was reported by 20% of abortion husbands versus 5% for controls. 70% of the abortion husbands reported they used contraception compared to 35% for controls. Abortion husbands tended to use unreliable contraceptive methods such as withdrawal (18% vs. 6%) or reliance upon a "safe" period (12% vs. 4%). The authors concluded, "Our study has served to emphasize the important role that the husband plays in abortion seeking and fertility regulation behavior. It is high time we should give substance to the shadowy figure that we call the male partner."

Aborted Women: Silent No More, David C. Reardon, (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1987).

In a study of 252 women members of Women Exploited by Abortion, 51% reported they were encouraged to have an abortion by a husband or boyfriend.

Lack of Social Support -- Obscuring the Problem

Perceived social support, self-efficacy, and adjustment to abortion. Major B, Cozzarelli C, Sciacchitano AM, Cooper ML, Testa M, Mueller PM. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1990 Sep;59(3):452-63.

This, and a number of similar studies, have found that women who report lack of support from others was highly correlated to more negative reactions to abortion. What is particularly interesting is that these studies by pro-choice advocates simply mix together lack of support for carrying to term and lack of support for abortion, in effect, hiding the direction of opposition from parents, family and others.
For example, in this particular study, the women were asked prior to their to rank the support from each of three groups (partner, parents, friend) on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 corresponds to "doesn't support me at all" and 7 corresponds to "totally supports me."
In general, researchers give the impression that more support for women having abortions would reduce psychological risk. But there muddy questions regarding support do not distinguish between women who want to deliver but have no support for carrying to term and women who want to abort but have no support for having an abortion. Very sloppy. But this is likely done precisely to hide any distinctions regarding coerced abortion and opposition to abortion. Notably, the lead author of this study has refused to make the data available for analysis by others.

Abortion in Women’s Lives. Heather D. Boonstra, Rachel Benson Gold,Cory L. Richards, Lawrence B. Finer. Guttmacher Institute. 2006

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 74% of women have abortions due to "concern for/responsibility to other individuals", a category that includes the preferences of the male partner and relationship problems.
"For example, women who are terminating pregnancies that are wanted or who lack support from their partner or parents for the abortion may feel a greater sense of loss, anxiety and distress."

How Common Are Coerced Abortions?

According to the 2008 report by American Psychological Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health, a major risk factor for women being at higher risk of negative psychological reactions to abortion are occasions in which there is "perceived pressure from others to terminate a pregnancy."[1] If a "coerced abortion" is understood in this context to mean one in which the woman feels pressured by others to have an abortion, the best range of estimates is that between 30 and 65 percent of abortions involve feelings of being pressured to have an abortion.

The lowest reported estimate comes from a report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The study was tellingly cited in an article by pro-choice ethicist Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center in a paper in which he worried about the pro-choice movement's failure to address the problem of coerced abortions:

If legal abortion has given women more choice, it has also given men more choice as well. They now have a potent new weapon in the old business of manipulating and abandoning women.... That men have long coerced women into abortion when it suits their purposes is well-known but rarely mentioned. Data reported by the Alan Gutmacher Institute indicate that some 30 percent of women have an abortion because someone else, not the woman, wants it (see: Rachel Benson gold, Abortion and Women's Health, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1990, p20.) The same data indicate that this is not necessarily the exclusive reason, but it is remarkably difficult to find much prochoice probing into the reality of coerced abortions. It is as if there is an embarrassed, sheepish silence on what would seem a matter of obvious concern for those committed to choice." [2]

The study cited by Callahan was based on interviews conducted at an abortion clinic in which the interviewer herself rated the primary reasons why women were choosing to have an abortion. It may therefore have been influenced by the interviewers own bias, skill in interviewing, or the reluctance of women to report coercion in the presence of parents or partners who were pressuring for the abortion.

A retrospective study of women seeking health care inquiring about their history of pregnancy loss found that of among American women who reported having had an induced abortion, 64 percent "felt pressured by others" to have the abortion.[3] The same study found that those women who reported feeling pressured to have an abortion also reported higher rates of negative psychological reactions which they attributed to their abortions.

In another study of 252 women who were seeking peer group support to cope with their past abortions, fifty-five percent of the women stated that they felt “forced” by others to choose the abortion, sixty-one percent said they felt as though others were in control of their lives, and forty-four percent were still hoping that the abortion counselor would present another alternative on the day they went to the abortion clinic.[4] While this sample was limited to women seeking counseling for negative post-abortion reactions and therefore may not be representative of all women seeking abortions, it shows a high rate of not only feeling pressured, but even "forced" to choose abortion among those women who end up the most dissatisfied with their abortion "choice."

The problem of women feeling pressured into unwanted abortions is even more acute in light of research into the risk of defective decision making in crisis situations.

Experts on crisis counseling have found that those who are in a state of crisis are increasingly vulnerable to outside influences and have less trust in their own opinions and abilities to make the right decision. Such “heightened psychological accessibility”[5]can lead to a situation where parents, counselors, or others in authority can have enormous influence over a woman’s decision. “A relatively minor force, acting for a relatively short time, can switch the whole balance from one side or to the other—to the side of mental health or to the side of ill health.”[6] Persons in crisis “are less in touch with reality . . . and more vulnerable to change than they are in non-crisis periods.”[7] They often experience feelings of tiredness, lethargy, hopelessness, inadequacy, confusion, anxiety, and disorganization. Thus, they are more likely to stand back and let other people make their decisions for them, instead of protecting themselves from decisions that may not be in their best interests.

A person who is upset and trapped in a crisis wants to reestablish stability, and is therefore very susceptible to any influence from others who claim to be able to solve the crisis, especially those who have status or authority.[8] Thus, with a minimal effort on the part of a mental health professional, family member, minister, or male partner, an enormous amount of leverage may be exerted upon a woman who is in a crisis situation.[9] This can be a dangerous situation for a woman who doesn’t really want an abortion but has others around her who push for it.

An understanding of this basic crisis theory helps to explain why pregnant women, especially if they are unwed, adolescent, or poor, are so vulnerable to undergoing abortions in violation of their own will and consciences. Women who would normally be very much in control of their own lives may suddenly feel dependant on the guidance of others when faced with a crisis pregnancy. In such cases, even minimal efforts by family members, their male partners, or medical authorities to encourage abortion may be experienced as the decisive factor.

What women experience as “pressure” to abort may involve indirect but significant pressure such as withholding love, approval and personal or practical support from the woman unless she agrees to an abortion. Or it may be overt, as in abuse or an outright threat to abandon or expel the woman from her home if she does not abort her child. In many cases, the pressure is applied intentionally by others. In other cases, the “pressure” is not intended, but simply perceived by the woman. For instance, if her boyfriend exhibits an unenthusiastic response to the news that she is pregnant, she may see this as his way of telling her that he will not help to support her or their child.

Since any element of coercion is not only a risk factor for psychological problems after abortion, but also a fundamental violation of the dignity and rights of women, abortion providers should carefully screen for any signs of coercion toward an unwanted abortion. Whenever this is observed, the pressuring parties should be counseled as to why the abortion is contraindicated. It should be explained that the fact that the abortion goes against the woman’s maternal or moral beliefs exposes her to a much greater risk of subsequent emotional problems, and that pressuring her into the abortion is only likely to worsen the relationships between the woman and those pressuring her. If the pressuring parties exert considerable control over the woman, any subsequent claim by the woman that the request for the abortion is “her decision” should not be accepted at face value, but should invite additional counseling to ensure that the decision is truly in conformity with her own beliefs and desires—-excluding the desire to please others at her own expense.

Additional Resources

Who’s Making the Choice? Women's Heightened Vulnerability During a Crisis Pregnancy How and why women are manipulated into unwanted abortions.

A Generation at Risk: How Teens Are Manipulated Into Abortion At look at how and why teens are especially vulnerable to coercion.

The Many Faces of Coercion Startling examples of coerced abortion around the world.

Unwanted, coerced or forced abortions in America

Forced Abortion in America Report

Women Who Abort: Their Reflections on the Unborn


  1. American Psychological Association, Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. (2008). Report of the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Washington, DC: Author. page 11.
  2. Daniel Callahan, “An Ethical Challenge to Prochoice Advocates,” Commonweal, Nov. 23, 1990, 681-687, 684.
  3. Rue VM, Coleman PK, Rue JJ, Reardon DC. Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women. Med Sci Monit, 2004 10(10): SR5-16.
  4. Reardon DC. Aborted Women: Silent No More. Chicago, Ill: Loyola University Press; 1987. (Survey Link)
  5. Howard W. Stone, Crisis Counseling. 20 (1976).
  6. Gerald Caplan, Principles of preventive psychiatry. Basic Books(1964), 293.
  7. Stone at 20
  8. Wilbur E. Morely, Theory of Crisis Intervention, 21 PASTORAL PSYCHOLOGY 16-17 (1970).
  9. Caplan, at 50-54.