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How Common Is Coercion?


In America and elsewhere, pressure or even forced abortion, deceptive
or negligent counseling, and direct or indirect forms of blackmail,
assembly-line or profit-driven clinics, substandard medical practices and
other factors work in concert to funnel women toward unwanted abortions.
Coercion can escalate to violence or homicide, the leading killer of pregnant women.2



Research regarding abortion and coercion may narrowly define coercion as "pressure from others," however many other forms of coercion are typically also in play,1 ranging from conflicted, negligent, rushed or profit-driven counseling to violence, abuse of institutional power or homicide, the leading killer of pregnant women.2

A report by the American Psychological Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health found that feeling pressured by others to abort is a major risk factor for negative post-abortion psychological reactions.1 Indications of various, often synergistic, forms of coercion are reflected in research findings that most women felt "rushed or uncertain," before abortion, yet 67% received no counseling beforehand, and 79% were not informed about alternatives. Over 80% said they were not given enough information to make an informed choice.4

Up to 64 percent of abortions involve feelings of being pressured to have an abortion, and other factors, such as rushed, deceptive, negligent or conflicted or profit-driven counseling, can also have a significant and often synergistic coercive effect.4 Furthermore, based on even the most minimal standards of care and human rights, such assembly-line care is exploitative at best and a recognized human rights abuse, even under liberal abortion laws.


The lowest estimates of coercion are defined relatively narrowly and may be influenced by the timing and location of the research. One study defined coercion as "perceived pressure from others," but did not include other significant forms of coercion, such as negligent, deceptive, rushed and/or conflicted, often profit-driven, counseling. It was from the Guttmacher Institute named after former Planned Parenthood president, Alan Guttmacher. This research indicated that 30% of women have abortions "because someone else, not the woman" wants it."3


However, because this research was based on interviews conducted on-site at an abortion clinic, responses may have been biased by women's reluctance to report coercion due to the presence of parents or partners who were applying pressure. Furthermore, studies indicate that objectivity while in a state of crisis can be highly compromised, which could also affect how the women reported their experiences.


Another study, done retrospectively taking a more distanced look back, found that 64% of American women who had abortions felt pressured by others. Among those who reported having had an induced abortion, 64 percent "felt pressured by others" to have the abortion.4 Not surprisingly, those who reported feeling pressured by others to abort were significantly more likely to also report higher rates of negative psychological reactions that they attributed to their abortions. This is consistent with the APA Task Force's conclusion that negative post-abortion emotional reactions are associated with feeling pressured to abort.1

In yet another study of 252 women who were seeking help in coping with past abortions, 55% reported that they felt “forced” by others to choose the abortion, 61% said they felt as though others were in control of their lives, and 44% were still hoping that the abortion clinic counselor would present another alternative on the day they went to the clinic.5 Although this study sample was limited to women seeking counseling for post-abortion problems, it illustrates that there are significant rates of not only feeling pressured, but even "forced" to have an unwanted abortion among those women who experience post-abortion issues. 


Magnifying the Impact of Coercion: Research Verifies that Decision-Making Under Duress Is Compromised

The reality and heartbreak of women feeling pressured into unwanted abortions becomes even more evident when considering research about defective decision-making during a crisis. Crisis counseling experts report that those who are in a state of crisis are highly vulnerable to outside influences and may doubt their own opinions and abilities to make the right decision. This “heightened psychological accessibility”[5] can give parents, counselors, or others in positions of authority or power a great deal of influence over a woman’s decision.


A relatively minor force, acting for a relatively short time, can tip the balance from one side or to the other.6 Those in a state of crisis are less in touch with reality and more vulnerable to change than they would otherwise be.7 It's not unusual for them to feel tired, lethargic, hopeless, inadequate, confused anxious, and disorganized. As a result, they may be more inclined let others make their decisions for them rather than defending themselves from decisions that may not be in their best interests.

Someone who feels upset and trapped in a crisis often feels a strong need to reestablish stability, and is therefore highly susceptible to influences from others who claim to be able to resolve the crisis situation. This is especially true of those who have status or authority.8  It takes very little effort on the part of a mental health professional, parent or other family member, male partner, physician, nurse, counselor, minister or others, to exert an enormous amount of leverage upon a woman who is experiencing a state of crisis.9 This can add to already significant pressures and present a dangerous situation for a woman who doesn’t really want an abortion but has others around her, from significant others to authority figures, who push for it.


Understanding basic crisis theory helps to explain why pregnant women -- especially if they are not married, adolescent, facing financial or emotional challenges, etc. -- are vulnerable to undergoing abortions in violation of their own will and consciences. Women who would normally exert a great deal of control over their own lives may suddenly feel dependent on the guidance of others when faced with a crisis pregnancy. Some may require or hope for the direct or indirect support others to have and raise their child. In such cases, even minimal efforts by others may become the deciding factor.


Pressure to abort may involve indirect but significant tactics such as withholding love, support, approval and personal or practical support unless she agrees to have an abortion. In other cases, the pressure may be overt, such as abuse or outright threats to abandon or expel the woman from her home. Often, the pressure is applied intentionally by others. In other circumstances, such pressure is not intended, but is still perceived as pressure by the woman. For example, if her partner responds unenthusiastically to news of the pregnancy, a woman may presume that he would not be willing to help support her or their baby.


Ethical and Legal Implications of Unwanted Abortions and Abortion's Exploitation and Risk to the Dignity, Rights and Lives of Both the Unborn and Women


Feeling direct or indirect pressure to abort is not only a risk factor for more frequent and severe post-abortion problems, it violates the dignity and fundamental rights of women, and is also an internationally recognized human rights abuse.11  


Even those who advocate for abortion rights, such as pro-choice ethicist Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center have expressed concern about looking the other way when it comes to the issue of coerced abortions. A paper written by Callahan reflects the importance of this issue, regardless of one's position on abortion: 


If legal abortion has given women more choice, it has also given men more

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 Allan 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." [3]

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.

Learn More

Who’s Making the Choice? Women's Heightened Vulnerability During a Crisis Pregnancy

A Generation at Risk: How Teens Are Manipulated Into Abortion

Forced Abortion in America Report

Wantedness and Coercion: Key Factors in Understanding Women's Mental Health After Abortion by Martha Shuping, MD

Disclosure and Coercion, an excerpt from Giving Sorrow Words


Share More

Download and share the Forced Abortion Fact Sheet

Download and share the Forced Abortion Flyer

Download and share the Forced Abortion Special Report (22-page pdf)
Download and share Portraits of Coercion


Find Help

Pregnancy Help -- (Includes Help for those Being Coerced into an Unwanted Abortion)

Help After Abortion

Center Against Forced Abortions (off-site link to resources and legal help)




  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. I.L. Horton and D. Cheng, “Enhanced Surveillance for Pregnancy-Associated Mortality-Maryland, 1993-1998,” JAMA 285(11): 1455-1459 (2001); see also J. Mcfarlane et. al., "Abuse During Pregnancy and Femicide: Urgent Implications for Women's Health," Obstetrics & Gynecology, 100: 27-36 (2002).

  3. Daniel Callahan, “An Ethical Challenge to Prochoice Advocates,” Commonweal, Nov. 23, 1990, 681-687, 684.

  4. 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.

  5. Reardon DC. Aborted Women: Silent No More. Chicago, Ill: Loyola University Press; 1987. (Survey Link)

  6. Howard W. Stone, Crisis Counseling. 20 (1976).

  7. Gerald Caplan, Principles of preventive psychiatry. Basic Books(1964), 293.

  8. Stone at 20

  9. Wilbur E. Morely, Theory of Crisis Intervention, 21 PASTORAL PSYCHOLOGY 16-17 (1970).

  10. Caplan, at 50-54.

  11. United Nations International Conference on Population and Development.



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