Almost half of all abortions each year worldwide are unsafe, study says

Georgia Reed
September 29, 2017

Compared with countries with less restrictive abortion laws, those with highly restrictive abortion laws had a significantly higher proportion of unsafe abortions.

All women and girls need access to sex education and effective contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies and get safe abortion services if desired, Ganatra said.

The Lancet study reviewed data on abortions from 61 countries, categorising them on a scale of "safe" to "least safe".

It said about 14 percent were "least safe" abortions provided by untrained persons using unsafe methods, such as introduction of foreign objects and use of herbal concoctions.

Around seven million women worldwide are admitted to hospital every year after their unsafe abortion leads to serious complications, including heavy bleeding, infection, and damage to the genitals.

Almost 88 percent of abortions in developed countries were safe, with the exception of Eastern Europe where the proportion of unsafe abortions was slightly higher, likely because of the use of outdated practices in that region, the researchers said.

Based on the World Health Organization definition, an unsafe abortion results from a pregnancy that is terminated either by someone who lacks the necessary medical skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.

The results were split into continents, and show that Africa has the largest proportion of "least safe" abortions, with Oceania coming second in this abysmal league table, Latin America next and with Asia coming last. In these countries, 49.5% of abortions were unsafe. Yet in South-Central Asia, less than one in two abortions were safe.

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The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on abortion.

The researchers wrote in the new study, "this analysis suggested that unsafe abortion is still a major problem in developing countries and that progress towards safer abortion is needed, even in some developed countries". This is not how things are done in a medical or surgical abortion, but it is how some of the world's most disadvantaged women are treated in lieu of decent healthcare.

Such a disparity often emerges when any health outcome is measured in developed versus developing regions, but safe abortion care is possible in developing countries, Ganatra said.

The researchers cautioned that reliable abortion data are hard to obtain, especially in places where it is illegal or otherwise stigmatized.

Provision of safe, legal abortion is essential to fulfilling the global commitment to the Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health (target 3.7).

Ganatra said that the findings also back up other research showing that laws restricting access to abortion will not result in fewer women getting abortions.

Unsafe abortion occurs when a pregnancy is terminated either by persons lacking the necessary skills/information or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.

They found that, in total, about 55.7 million abortions occurred annually worldwide between 2010 and 2014.

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