BACKGROUND. Induced abortion is often discussed in terms of ethics. The aim of the present report is to describe the abortion ethics as it was expressed by women undergoing a legal abortion. OBJECTIVE. Moral considerations expressed during semistructured interviews by 128 women two weeks after a first trimester abortion in Stockholm 1987-90 are reported. RESULT. The women had faced a choice between abortion and parenthood. At the time of the abortion many of them were living under conditions that meant they were unable to offer a child the security they regarded as a child's right. The conflict the women spontaneously described as their main moral dilemma was not a conflict between the woman and the fetus, but a conflict between several close relationships, also concerning the prospective father. The ethics that the women applied to the problems of abortion was founded on a long-term responsibility to care for persons in their relationships. CONCLUSION. The women interviewed had three levels of moral reasoning simultaneously present. 1. A theoretical level--most of all concerning other women--a liberal view of rights: abortion should be a freely obtainable option. 2. A theoretical level--above all, concerning themselves--a restrictive deontological view: the extinction of life is morally wrong and should be avoided. 3. A practical level--when the problem was a reality: a consequentialist ethics of care. According to this ethics of care it was important that the abortion could be performed as early as possible during pregnancy.