The Real Life Guide to Talking About Abortion

By Jeannie Ludlow, PhD, ACP Board Member

In the political debate between “pro‐choice” and “pro‐life,” have we forgotten that abortion is a very real part of the lives of millions of women in the U.S.? It’s time to re‐focus the conversation about women’s lives and real life decisions.

How can we be better listeners?

In the U.S., abortion discussions are dominated by the political stances called “pro‐choice” and “pro‐life.” These political stances are largely irrelevant to women who decide to abort their pregnancies. Many abortion patients identify themselves as “pro‐life,” and many “pro‐choice” people state that they would never choose abortion for themselves. This is the best evidence for the complexity of real life. People simply do not live their lives in political categories.

It’s time to reshape abortion discussions from debates between political positions to conversations about women’s lived experiences with abortion. This chart demonstrates that neither “pro‐choice” nor “pro‐life” is good enough. We need to understand and support women’s REAL LIFE situations and decisions. Let’s leave the labels behind and listen to the experiences of women and men.

Abortion by the numbers

57% of abortion patients are between 19 and 29 and 53% are living at or below the federal poverty level. Most are unmarried (86%), Christian (71%), and a mom (61%; only 27% of abortions are for first pregnancy). There is a racial gap in abortion experience: Latinas in the U.S. are twice as likely to have abortions as white women, while African American women are three times as likely. 88% of all abortions occur when the woman is less than twelve‐and‐a‐half weeks pregnant. (Source: AGI/PRCH. 2008. “An Overview of Abortion in the United States.” Retrieved from

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