Unsafe abortions increase, particularly in Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The number of unsafe abortions is rising worldwide, putting women's health at risk, researchers say.

Abortion rates have declined in developed countries. But in developing countries, especially ones with laws restricting abortion, the proportion of abortions that are unsafe and are dangerous to women's health has increased.

More from GlobalPost: Ethiopian women face dangers in childbirth

While global abortion rates are largely stable, at 28 per 1,000 women a year, the proportion carried out in conditions deemed unsafe rose from 44 percent in 1995 to 49 percent in 2008, according to a report published in The Lancet, a British medical journal.

An astonishing 97 percent of all abortions performed in Africa are unsafe, as are 95 percent of those in Latin America. In comparison, 40 percent of abortions performed in Asia, and 9 percent of those in Europe can be considered unsafe. 

More from GlobalPost: Nepal: U.S. law prevents Global Health Initiative funding for abortion

Abortions are illegal or highly restricted in most African countries.

Researchers said the abortion rate was generally lower in areas where women lived under liberal abortion laws, and "restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates."

The study also found that abortion-related mortality is higher in places where abortion is banned or restricted. In countries that liberalized their abortion laws, including South Africa and Nepal, the number of deaths related to unsafe abortions fell dramatically.

Maternal mortality due to abortions remained steady at 70,000 deaths a year, most of which occur in sub-Saharan Africa and south-central Asia.

These deaths are "entirely preventable," researchers said.

More from GlobalPost: Unsafe abortions: India ranks badly despite liberal laws

Unsafe abortions and related complications occur almost exclusively in the developing world, said an editorial in The Lancet that was published alongside the study.

Abolishing legal restrictions on abortion will "fulfill a basic human right for women worldwide."

"Reaching the fifth UN Millennium Development Goal — a 75 percent reduction of maternal mortality worldwide by 2015 — will be impossible without successfully addressing unsafe abortions," the editorial said.

"The focus on abortion should be urgent, immediate, and multidimensional. Improving sex education and access to effective contraception methods can reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies and the need for unsafe abortions."  

More from GlobalPost: Uruguay senate passes bill to legalize abortion

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.