New York – Increased contraceptive use has led to fewer abortions worldwide, but deaths from unsafe abortion remain a severe problem, killing 70,000 women a year, according to a major global survey from the Guttmacher Institute.
The report, “Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress,” states that almost all unsafe abortions were in less developed countries with restrictive abortion laws, and more than half the deaths, about 38,000, were in sub-Saharan Africa, which was singled out as the region with by far the lowest rates of contraceptive use and the highest rates of unintended pregnancies. “In almost all developed countries, abortion is safe and legal," said Sharon Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute. “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.”
The report notes that abortions worldwide are declining even as more countries liberalize their abortion laws. Since 1997, it said, only three countries — Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador — substantially increased restrictions on abortion, while laws were eased significantly in 19 countries and regions, including Cambodia, Nepal and Mexico City.
Despite this trend, the report said 40 percent of the world's women live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, virtually all of them in the developing world. This category includes 92 percent of the women in Africa and 97 percent in Latin America.
The survey concluded that abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in countries where it is legal and where it is highly restricted. The key difference, according to the report, is the high rate of deaths and medical complications from unsafe clandestine abortions in the restrictive countries. “Legal restrictions do not stop abortion from happening. They just make the procedure dangerous,” Camp said. “Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack legal abortion access.”
The report makes three major recommendations for improving the situation: (1) expand access to modern contraceptives and improve family planning services; (2) expand access to legal abortion and ensure that safe, legal abortion services are available to women in need; (3) improve the coverage and quality of post-abortion care, which would reduce maternal death and complications from unsafe abortion.