Abortion Rates Higher for Religious Women

I have studied the abortion and religion link for years. Many studies demonstrate that the vast majority of women having abortions are religious women.

A few religious women have written to me, disagreeing with this statistic. They feel that mostly atheists must get abortions. If we take this step by step, it is easier to determine where the disconnect in logic is.

Women by Religion in the US
It took me hours to track down all of these figures. Some sites have just the percentage for one religion. Other sites have guesstimates at the total number of members in the US for a group. Thanks go to my sister Jenn for finding the ARIS and Pew pages to help out with this table.

Religion# WomenYearNotes
Protestant83,930,0002004 55% of Protestants are female; There are 152.6 million Protestants, 52% of US population of 293.6 million
Roman Catholic39,636,0002004 54% of Catholics are female; There are 73.4 Catholics, 25% of population of 293.6 million
Pew Forum
LDS3,025,0001992 55% of LDS members are female. There are 5.5 million total. More balanced in Utah, very female-heavy on east coast
Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Jewish2,652,0002000 51% of Jews are female. There are 5.2 million total. Interestingly this ratio is the same as the total US population
Jewish Virtual Library
Muslim2,400,0002008 48% of Muslims are female. There are around 5 million total. Stats for total population in US vary wildly across the web but this is an average
Atheist / Agnostic864,0002001 48% of atheists / agnostics are female. There are around 1.8 million total.

What these statistics tell us is that only a tiny percentage of women in the US are non-religious. It is less than 2% of all women.

Abortion Statistics:
The AGI estimates that in 2006 and 2007 that there were 1,206,200 abortions each year.

So given the above religious statistics, if the "religious people do not have abortions" argument was to be true, it would require every single athetist and agnostic woman had an abortion every single year in order for abortions to be all due to them. Some would have to have two a year. This is of course wildly unlikely since a good portion of these women are beyond childbearing years.

According to the BBC, "Catholic women in the United States are as likely as women in the general population to have an abortion, and 29% more likely than Protestant women." They are quoting research from the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

A survey at an abortion clinic found that 40% of women getting an abortion were Catholic, 40% were from other religions and 20% were non-religious. This is even though only about 25% of US people are Catholics.

Women and Unwanted Pregnancies by Religion
Women who are on birth control generally do not get pregnant. They are actively preventing their pregnancies. Women who are not on birth control are the ones who tend to get pregnant. Yes, sometimes birth control fails. Still, your chance of getting pregnant while you're on birth control is much smaller than your chance of getting pregnant if you're not using any birth control at all.

So the larger percentage of women going in to get an abortion would be women who were not on birth control.

According to a FDA study:
85% of sexually active women who do not use birth control end up pregnant.
3% to 14% of condom users - the most commonly used "contraceptive device" - end up pregnant (failure rate depending on how well they use them).
0.3% to 8% of birth control pill users - second most commonly used - end up pregnant (again failure rate depends on the skill of the taker)

Who Does Not Use Birth Control?
People who are not on birth control tend to fall into two categories.

First, teen women who are afraid to ask for birth control. They are embarrassed to go into the drug store and ask for condoms. They are afraid of their parents and do not want to ask their doctor for the pill.

Second, adult women who have religious issues with birth control. They want to follow the teachings of their religion and follow their code properly.

How do these groups compare?

The teen group has been whittling down over the years as doctors are more likely to give birth control to sexually active teens. Back in the 1970s, birth control was only for married women! A single adult woman who held a job, owned her own home, supplied her own income, and wanted to have a sexual life was not allowed to get the pill. It is fairly scary that doctors made these moral judgments. It makes me glad that we are decades away from the 70s. It has been a long, slow process - but over time doctors and society have become more mature about who has access to birth control. We are now at the point where practically any woman who wants birth control to control her own fertility has a right to access that medicine.

While teens are now taking proper care of their sexual health, there remains a group of adult women who steadfastly refuse to take birth control pills. These are the religious women. They are not remaining celibate! They actively have sex. They have sex, but without birth control. They could get birth control if they wished. Our society has made this fairly easy in modern times. They actively choose not to use birth control. They are therefore the largest group of women who end up "accidentally pregnant" and have to then decide about their alternatives.

I think we all agree that in an ideal society the only women who would get pregnant would be women who want to be pregnant. We all aim for a society where there are no abortions, where every child is a loved, wanted, cared for child. The question then is how women end up pregnant when they did not want to be pregnant. Which women are choosing to having sex without protection when they are not actively trying to conceive a child.

After all, every sexual act which is not rape is, by definition, a choice.

Let's assume these religious women truly felt strongly about their desire to never harm a child. Therefore they should be using guaranteed high-safety contraceptives every time they had sex if their aim during that act was not to have a child.

Catholic Church and Birth Control

Other Resources:
Catholic Church says Condoms have Tiny Holes at a UN Webpage
CDC Report on Birth Control Usage
BBC Statement on Catholics and Abortion