Global Abortion Rates

by Liz Olson

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Research done by scientists from the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in New York, shows that outlawing abortion has not deterred women from seeking the procedure. In countries where abortion is legal, researchers found that abortion was safe, whereas in countries where it is illegal, the procedure is dangerous. Globally, there are 28 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, and studies show that abortion accounts for 13% of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth.

In Jan. 2012, the WHO and the Guttmacher Institute released a study that showed a global picture of abortion trends, indicating that women are not influenced by the law in their decision to have an abortion. If it is illegal, women are seeking abortions in unsafe conditions by untrained people. In 2008, the estimated annual number of deaths from unsafe abortion worldwide declined from 56,000 in 2003 to 47,000 in 2008. Complications from unsafe abortion accounted for an estimated 13% of all maternal deaths worldwide in both years.

Data suggests that the best way to reduce abortion rates is to make contraception more available rather than banning the practice of abortions. The study found that in Eastern Europe, where contraception has become more accessible, abortion rates have decreased by 50%.

A woman’s likelihood of having an abortion is slightly elevated if she lives in a developing region. In 2008, there were 29 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years in developing countries, compared with 24 in the developed world

Anti-abortionists suggest that the major reason women die in developing countries is not because abortion is illegal, but because hospitals and health care in general are lacking, which would not necessarily change if abortion is legalized.

Incidence and Rates
Global and regional estimates of induced abortion, 1995, 2003, and 2008
Region and Subregion No. of abortions (millions) Abortion rate1
1995 2003 2008 1995 2003 2008
World 45.6 41.6 43.8 35 29 28
Developed Countries 10.0 6.6 6.0 39 26 24
 Excluding Eastern Europe 3.8 3.5 3.2 20 19 17
Developing countries2 35.5 35.0 37.8 34 29 29
 Excluding China 24.9 26.4 28.6 33 30 29
Estimates by region
Africa 5.0 5.6 6.4 33 29 29
Asia 26.8 25.9 27.3 33 29 28
Europe 7.7 4.3 4.2 48 28 27
Latin America 4.2 4.1 4.4 37 31 32
Northern America 1.5 1.5 1.4 22 21 19
Oceania 0.1 0.1 0.1 21 17 17
1. Abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44
2. Those within Africa, the Americas, excluding Canada and the United States of America, Asia, excluding Japan, and Oceania, excluding Australia and New Zealand


Abortion Rates in Western Industrialized Countries Health
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