January 18, 2011 — The global abortion rate has leveled off in recent years, while the proportion of abortions that are unsafe has increased, according to a study published Thursday in The Lancet, the AP/USA Today reports.
Researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization examined national surveys, official statistics and hospital records from around the world. To account for unreported procedures, they also considered expert assessments and surveys of women. The researchers defined unsafe abortions as those performed by people lacking necessary skills or performed in locations that do not meet minimum medical standards (AP/USA Today, 1/18). From 1995 through 2003, the global abortion rate decreased from 35 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age to 29 per 1,000. The new study found a rate of 28 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008, nearly unchanged since 2003. The study noted that the overall number of abortions increased from 2003 through 2008 -- from 41.6 million to 43.8 million -- because of an increasing global population. Abortions declined by 600,000 in developed countries but increased by 2.8 million in developing countries, the study found.
Meanwhile, the proportion of abortions that were unsafe increased from 44% in 1995 to 49% in 2008 (Kelland, Reuters, 1/18). While almost all abortions performed in 2008 were characterized as safe in North America, East Asia and Europe, 97% of abortions in Africa and 65% of abortions in South Central Asia were considered unsafe, the study found (Conley, ABC News, 1/19).
Connections to Contraceptive Access
The study's findings on abortion rates are strongly correlated to the availability of effective contraceptive methods and abortion laws, according to lead author Gilda Sedgh, a senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute.
Sedgh said the availability of family planning services around the world has not kept up with the global demand for contraception. She said the stabilized abortion rate "coincides with a slowdown in contraceptive uptake," adding that "without greater investment in quality family planning services, we can expect this trend to persist." She estimates that 215 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for contraception (Reuters, 1/18).
The study also noted that while some countries have decreased restrictions on abortion, others have increased barriers to safe abortion through restrictive legislation, unwillingness to train providers, increasing the cost of obtaining services and stigmatization.
Lauren Streicher, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said restrictive abortion laws do not lead to abortion being "performed less often" but do make procedures "just more unsafe," adding, "Condemning abortion is a cruel and failed strategy" (ABC News, 1/19).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership