Illegal abortion leads to many more deaths, but not fewer abortions

I’m sure that for most of you, the results from the latest worldwide study on abortion by the Guttmacher Institute and World Health Organizations won’t come as big surprise. They didn’t to me, but it’s always great to see your arguments backed up by fact and to see them receiving such wide publicity.

The main finding is that the legal status of abortion has extremely little to do with how many women undergo the procedure. The difference, of course, is in how many women make it out alive.

A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.

Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are 31 abortions for every 100 live births, the study said.

. . . “We now have a global picture of induced abortion in the world, covering both countries where it is legal and countries where laws are very restrictive,” Dr. Paul Van Look, director of the W.H.O. Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said in a telephone interview. “What we see is that the law does not influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy, it does not matter if the law is restrictive or liberal.”

But the legal status of abortion did greatly affect the dangers involved, the researchers said. “Generally, where abortion is legal it will be provided in a safe manner,” Dr. Van Look said. “And the opposite is also true: where it is illegal, it is likely to be unsafe, performed under unsafe conditions by poorly trained providers.”

The data also suggested that the best way to reduce abortion rates was not to make abortion illegal but to make contraception more widely available, said Sharon Camp, chief executive of the Guttmacher Institute.

Everyone together now: well, duh.

It’s not the only news, though. The study also informs us that 1 in 5 pregnancies worldwide end in abortion, and that abortion rates actually fell 17% worldwide between 1995 and 2003. Other findings:

Of the 41.6 million abortions worldwide, 35 million were in the developing countries, and 6.6 million in developed countries.

The worldwide induced abortion rate fell from 35 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1995 to 29 per 1,000 in 2003.

That same year, 48 percent of all abortions worldwide were unsafe (up from 44 percent in 1995), and 97 percent of unsafe abortions were in developing countries. In developed countries, 92 percent of abortions were safe.

Of course, we have long-known that illegal and unsafe abortion leads to high mortality rates. In fact, with rather perfect timing, a study by a Harvard professor was also released today that showed there are more than 500,000 maternal deaths worldwide every year, a number that has gone down by only 5.4% in 20 years. As already stated, only 13% of those deaths are due to unsafe abortion, but it’s still a staggeringly high number (around 65,000 by my math). Of course, we need to fight for better health care for women who continue their pregnancies, as well. The numbers, no matter how or from which angle you look at them, are horrifying. And we can in fact fix it. The proof is in Bangladesh, which has caused its maternal mortality rate to fall between 68% and 54% in thirty years, depending on the region within the country. And why, exactly, has the rate fallen? Due to access to safer abortion procedures and emergency obstetric care.

A big thanks to Guttmacher Institute and WHO for putting these issues on the table and in the spotlight.

0 thoughts on “Illegal abortion leads to many more deaths, but not fewer abortions

  1. kissmypineapple

    Sometimes I think that anti-choicers are rather elated at the fact that making abortion illegal raises the mortality rate in women who seek abortions.

  2. Anna

    “Well duh” about sums it up, Cara. Once again we have studies & statistics to tell us the obvious – unfortunately, those of us who are sobered by the statistics already suspected/knew as much anyway. Sadly, these statistics, this study will probably not change much in the way of anti-abortion policy. Yes, I’m becoming cynical. Sadly.

  3. Debs

    I just blogged about the blanket ban on abortions in Nicaragua. The disregard and disrespect for women’s lives is quite staggering, and your lovely straight-to-the-point post sums it up perfectly: women will still have abortions, they just might not survive them, and obviously this is a matter of no concern at all to the pro-lifers.


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