Deaths from Unsafe Abortion Decrease, But Unsafe Abortions On the Rise

Researchers Iqbal Shah and Elisabeth Ahman of the World Health Organization report in the current issue of Reproductive Health Matters that the number of women dying from unsafe abortion has decreased by approximately one-third, from 67,000 in 2003 to 47,000 in 2008. However, the number of unsafe abortions has increased from 19.7 million in 2003 to 21.6 in 2008. WHO explains this increase as due to a greater number of women of reproductive age (15-44) living throughout the world. 

Among the major findings highlighted in this report is the disparity between abortion incidences in developed and developing countries. Over 98% (21.2 million out of 21.6 million) of unsafe abortions in 2008 occurred in the developing world. The highest incident rate occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimate of 31 unsafe abortions for every 1,000 women of reproductive age, as compared to two in Europe and less than one in the United States. Janie Benson, the Vice President of Ipas, remarked in response, “The continuing disparity between rich and poor nations in women’s access to safe abortion is unconscionable, and its results are tragic.”

Last month, Guttmacher Institute President Sharon Camp wrote in the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog about the widespread toll a woman’s death from unsafe abortion can take. “Losing their mother and care-giver devastates the lives of children and families, and losing a healthy woman's many contributions to society weakens her community,” she writes. “African governments spend, on average, $114 per case to provide care for illness and disability associated with unsafe abortion, yet per-capita spending on healthcare averages just $48.” Camp argues that if government leaders wish to decrease rates of unsafe abortion in their countries, they must ensure that all women have access to and information about effective contraceptive methods.

Yet for women who are already pregnant, more than access to contraceptives is needed. Janie Benson adds, “As Shah and Ahman note, modern abortion techniques are among the safest clinical interventions in health care today. By ensuring that women everywhere can benefit from them, we can save even more lives.”

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