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Council of Europe Urges Member States to Decriminalize Abortion

April 18, 2008

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a group comprising members from 47 European countries, has adopted a resolution calling for the decriminalization of abortion within reasonable gestational limits and guaranteed access to safe abortion procedures. The nonbinding resolution was passed on April 16 by a vote of 102 to 69. While most member states currently permit abortion under broad grounds, some countries severely restrict abortion.

Recent worldwide abortion estimates from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO) found that while overall abortion rates declined between 1995 and 2003, the lowest abortion rates occurred in those Western European countries where abortion is legal under broad grounds, and contraceptive services and use are widespread.

"We know, and the evidence confirms yet again, that the best way to make abortion less necessary is to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place," says Dr. Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. "And we know that the crucial first step in making abortion safer is to legalize the procedure, ensuring that it is performed by skilled providers under the best possible conditions. It’s time for policymakers worldwide to renew their commitment to women’s health by addressing these crucial issues."

The Guttmacher Institute and WHO study found that nearly half of the 42 million induced abortions in 2003 were clandestine and unsafe. Further, the abortion rate was roughly equal in places where it is legal and where it is illegal, suggesting that restrictive policies do not lead to fewer abortions. Complications from unsafe abortions account for the deaths of some 67,000 women each year—an estimated 13% of maternal deaths worldwide. Reducing the incidence of clandestine abortion would result in an immediate and substantial reduction of maternal mortality.

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Induced abortion worldwide

New evidence and the worldwide abortion debate

The Guttmacher and WHO study