What Percent of Abortions Are Medically Necessary?

Shenan J. Boquet
written by HLI Staff
October 1, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Human Life International

The short answer to this question is "zero."

Medical science has progressed to the point where an abortion is never necessary to preserve the life or the health of the mother. This has been true for more than half a century.

Abortions performed to preserve the life or the health of the mother are so rare that they do not register statistically, according to Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood, who did more to promote and spread abortion on demand throughout the world than any other individual. In 1967 he commented, "Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal disease such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save the life."1

Alan Guttmacher quote on the medical necessity of abortions

In any case where both the mother and child are ill, both should be treated, and every effort should be made to save both mother and child. The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists ( AAPLOG) states that the term "abortion to save the life of the mother" is deliberately misleading terminology, and that no abortion saves the life of the mother; rather, one treats both patients. For instance, prematurely delivering the baby may be an option if the mother is gravely ill and AAPLOG acknowledges that, in some cases, the baby may be too premature to survive.

But How Common Are Such Conditions?

Naturally, the percentage of abortions allegedly performed to save the life or health of the mother will vary somewhat based on country, but we can see from the testimony of doctors and researchers that these cases are exceedingly rare. Even abortionists testify that if there is a medical emergency, the course of action is to deliver the baby prematurely, because to go through the stages required by a surgical abortion (laminaria, stretching the cervix, etc.) would cause more, not less danger to the mother.

As far back as 1981, former Surgeon General of the United States Dr. C. Everett Koop said "The fact of the matter is that abortion as a necessity to save the life of the mother is so rare as to be nonexistent."2 He was backed up by reformed abortionist Bernard Nathanson, who said not long after, "The situation where the mother's life is at stake were she to continue a pregnancy is no longer a clinical reality. Given the state of modern medicine, we can now manage any pregnant woman with any medical affliction successfully, to the natural conclusion of the pregnancy: The birth of a healthy child."3

There are several conditions that pose a threat to the mother's physical and mental health which may arise during pregnancy. These are often presented as 'necessitating' an abortion when they do not. As former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino has affirmed: "During my time at Albany Medical Center I managed hundreds of such cases by 'terminating' pregnancies to save mother's lives. In all those cases, the number of unborn children that I had to deliberately kill was zero." Dr. Levatino in these cases "terminated" the pregnancies he managed by delivering the babies early.

The Problem with the Label "Medically Necessary"

The term "medically necessary" is nothing more than a ruse used by the abortion industry to justify abortions of convenience.

As we explained above, AAPLOG has said that the term "medically necessary" is deliberately misleading. In fact, pro-abortion legislators use this vague term to enact laws that allow abortion on demand. Studies by the Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the world's leading pro-abortion research organization, show that only from one percent to three percent of all abortions are performed for medical reasons, while a whopping 96.5% are performed for economic and social ("convenience") reasons.4 One point that this study by the AGI demonstrates is that "medical necessity" is not even considered by the vast majority of mothers who intend to abort.

Although not the primary goal of the study, it is clear from the data presented that more developed countries have far fewer claims that abortion is medically necessary (Kenya with 20% claiming this as the main reason and Finland with only o.6%). In fact, in the United States, abortions are performed most often for reasons of convenience such as finances or relationship status.

For more on how this abuse of terminology began and developed, visit Dr. Brian Clowes' article " Shouldn't We Permit Abortion Only to Save the Life of the Mother? "

We frequently see examples of this abuse of terminology in the rationalizations offered by those arguing in favor of abortion. As the Catholic News Agency reports, Professor Lucia A. Silecchia of the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law has pointed out that "there is no requirement for a doctor to even consider whether or not there exists an alternative to abortion that could solve the medical crisis." The language of the legal statutes clearly has been twisted to make abortion freely available for any reason.

Using "medical necessity" as legislative terminology allows lawmakers to craft bills that have large loopholes defining what such risk means. By tugging at our heartstrings with a purely emotional appeal, pro-abortionists argue that we cannot possibly refuse to "help" mothers. All over the world, pro-abortion organizations vastly inflate the numbers of abortions, create statistics on maternal mortality out of thin air, and basically use this as a means towards abortion on demand.5 Dr. Bernard Nathanson, abortionist turned pro-lifer and co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League, has described this tactic in detail .

We should expect that this percentage of life-threatening pregnancies will only decrease as modern medicine continues to make progress in saving mothers from these tragic complications. We should, therefore, be progressing towards policies that treat both mother and child, as has always been the ideal. Namely, we must provide all ordinary means of keeping both the mother and the child alive, and the scope of these ordinary means expands as medicine progresses. The key to handling these situations is simply to acknowledge the humanity of both the mother and of the child.

What to Do in the Rare Cases

Again, abortion to save the mother should never happen. Therefore, in the increasingly rare cases where continuing the pregnancy causes real and immediate danger to the mother, the baby ought to be removed in such a way that every effort is made to preserve its life outside of the womb. In such a case, both mother and baby are treated because their lives are of equal value. If the baby should die after a premature delivery, the physicians have done all they could to save his or her life. They have not deliberately killed the baby.

"Preemie" survival rates are improving constantly. Even if a delivery occurred at a time when the baby was likely not viable, the fundamental difference is still the intent behind the act . It is never morally permissible to intend an evil outcome, and the death of an unborn child is most certainly an evil outcome ( more explanation of these moral principles here ).

What About Mental Health?

There is substantial evidence from several sources, including the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and BMC Medicine , that abortions do not solve mental issues, and usually aggravate them, even when compared with the issues that sometimes develop in miscarriage cases and others. The research presented by the British Journal of Psychiatry concludes that long term mental health problems in the wake of induced abortions increase, and the probability of depression, anxiety, guilt, etc. goes up by 81% compared to mothers who carried their baby until birth. It is clear that mental health reasons worsen with abortion and compound the problem, rather than relieving such symptoms.

A handful of recent studies that allege that abortion is beneficial to the mental health of women invariably suffer from an extreme conflict of interest since they are usually either done by organizations that perform abortions themselves or aggressively advocate for them.6


The percentage of abortions that are performed out of "medical necessity" is a dynamic statistic, but in the United States, cases of true medical necessity are exceedingly rare or nonexistent. They are in no way a justification for abortion.

The rare cases when the mother and child cannot both be saved should not be called medically necessary abortions , because effort is made to preserve both the lives of child and mother. In these instances, the only way to save the mother is by delivering, not killing, the baby.