You’re about to read something unusual. An article on abortion without controversy, political statements or hyperbole from either end of the political spectrum. Just the facts – seven of them – courtesy of new reports released in the last few weeks by a distinguished medical journal, The Lancet, the Guttmacher Institute, and rarely cited data from the superb Global Burden of Disease (GBD).
Here we go.
#1. Globally, an estimated 56 million abortions are occuring each year, 36 million in Asia, 8 million in Africa, 6.5 million in Latin America, 4.4 million in Europe, and 1.2 million in North America (Sedgh et al, Lancet 2016).
#2. There are 35 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, but the rate is higher in the Carribbean (65), South America (47), Eastern Europe (42) and Northern Africa (38), and lower in Oceania (19), Western/Northern Europe (18) and North America (17). While abortion rates are falling in higher income regions, they are static or rising in lower income regions (Sedgh et al, Lancet 2016).
#3. The proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion also varies widely, from 39% in the Caribbean and 38% in Eastern Europe, to 28% in Asia and 15% in Africa. The global average is 25% (Sedgh et al, Lancet 2016).
#4. About half of all pregnancies among adolescent women aged 15 to 19 living in lower income regions are unplanned, with more than half ending in abortion. Adolescents are more likely to resort to unsafe abortions and delay seeking medical care (Guttmacher 2016).
#5. The rate of abortion in countries that restrict access is actually higher (37%) than in countries that allow abortion on request (34%), indicating that legal restrictions are a blunt instrument to reduce abortion rates (Sedgh et al, Lancet 2016).
#6. Death from abortion is now the second leading cause of death in pregnancy and childbirth (the first is hemorrhage), claiming an estimated 44,000 of 293,000 maternal deaths in 2013 (Global Burden of Disease 2013). Among women aged 20 to 24 abortion complications are now the tenth leading cause of all deaths, claiming as many lives as malaria (Mokdad et al, Lancet 2016).
#7. Meeting all unmet need for modern contraception would avert 24 million abortions among women, 3.2 million among adolescent women aged 15 to 19, every year (Guttmacher 2014 and 2016).