Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 365–378 | Cite as

Reasons women give for abortion: a review of the literature

  • Maggie KirkmanEmail author
  • Heather Rowe
  • Annarella Hardiman
  • Shelley Mallett
  • Doreen Rosenthal
Review Article


The aim was to identify from empirical research that used quantitative or qualitative methods the reasons women give for having an abortion. A search was conducted of peer-reviewed, English language publications indexed in eight computerized databases with publication date 1996–2008, using keywords ‘abortion’ and ‘reason’ (Medline: ‘induced abortion’ OR ‘termination of pregnancy’ OR ‘elective abortion’ and ‘reason’). Inclusion criteria were empirical research on humans that identified women’s reasons for undergoing an abortion, conducted in ‘high-income’ countries. 19 eligible papers were found. Despite variation in methods of generating, collecting, and analysing reasons, and the inadequacy of methodological detail in some papers, all contributed to a consistent picture of the reasons women give for having an abortion, with three main categories (‘Woman-focused’, ‘Other-focused’, and ‘Material’) identified. Ambivalence was often evident in women’s awareness of reasons for continuing the pregnancy, but abortion was chosen because continuing with the pregnancy was assessed as having adverse effects on the life of the woman and significant others. Women’s reasons were complex and contingent, taking into account their own needs, a sense of responsibility to existing children and the potential child, and the contribution of significant others, including the genetic father.


Literature review Induced abortion Women’s reasons 



This review was made possible through funding by the Australian Research Council (grant # LP0667968) and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. We thank Patrick Condron of the Baillieu Library, the University of Melbourne, for his assistance with the comprehensive literature search.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maggie Kirkman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Heather Rowe
    • 1
  • Annarella Hardiman
    • 2
  • Shelley Mallett
    • 1
  • Doreen Rosenthal
    • 1
  1. 1.Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society, The Melbourne School of Population HealthUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Royal Women’s HospitalMelbourneAustralia

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