Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Unsafe abortions kill 70,000 women a year

A major new report released this week shows that increases in global contraceptive use have helped decrease the number of abortions worldwide, but for those living under restrictive abortion laws, unsafe and harmful procedures remain the only option; killing an estimated 70,000 women every year.

Published on October 13th, The Guttmacher Institute’s report: ‘Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress’ highlights the benefits of increasing contraceptive use in lowering the number of unintended pregnancies—and therefore lowering abortion numbers. Worldwide, the annual number of abortions has dropped from an estimated 45.5 million procedures in 1995, to approximately 41.6 million in 2003. This worldwide decline has occurred alongside the liberalisation of abortion laws, with nineteen countries significantly reducing their restrictions in abortion law since 1997.

“The progress made during the past decade in increasing contraceptive use and reducing the need for abortion is fundamentally good news—the world is moving in the right direction,” says Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “And yet, we still have two widely disparate realities. In almost all developed countries, abortion is safe and legal. But in much of the developing world, abortion remains highly restricted, and unsafe abortion is common and continues to damage women’s health and threaten their survival.”

40% of the world’s women live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, with the majority of these in the developing world. For these women, unsafe, clandestine abortion is the only option. Unsafe abortion causes an estimated 70,000 deaths every year, with an additional five million women treated annually from complications arising from unsafe abortion.

“The gains we’ve seen are modest in relation to what we can achieve. Investing in family planning is essential—far too many women lack access to contraception, putting them at risk,” adds Dr. Camp. “Legal restrictions do not stop abortion from happening, they just make the procedure dangerous. Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack legal abortion access.”

As Dr. Camp notes, incidence of abortion does not correlate with abortion’s legal status; in fact, abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is restricted as it does in those where it is broadly legal, with the number of global unsafe abortions barely dropping from 19.9 million in 1995 to 19.7 million in 2003. The key difference for women is therefore safety.

“The evidence is strong and growing that empowering women with the means to decide for themselves when to become pregnant and how many children to have significantly lowers unintended pregnancy rates and thereby reduces the need for abortion,” Dr. Camp concluded. “Addressing the unmet need for contraception, which remains very high in many parts of world, is critical in promoting the well-being of women and their families. This is especially true in those parts of the developing world where modern contraceptive use is still low and mortality related to clandestine and unsafe abortion is high.”

The new report makes three key recommendations: · Expand access to modern contraceptives and improve family planning services. · Expand access to legal abortion and ensure that safe and legal abortion services are available to women in need. · Improve the coverage and quality of post-abortion care, which would reduce maternal death and complications from unsafe abortion.

“Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress” was authored by Susheela Singh, Deirdre Wulf, Rubina Hussain, Akinrinola Bankole and Gilda Sedgh.

Read the full report here