Worldwide Abortion: Legality, Incidence and Safety
• After declining substantially between 1995 and 2003, the worldwide abortion rate stalled between 2003 and 2008. Between 1995 and 2003, the global abortion rate dropped from 35 to 29. It remained virtually unchanged at 28 in 2008.
• In 2008, six million abortions were performed in developed countries and 38 million in developing countries, a disparity that largely reflects population distribution.
• Globally, the proportion of abortions that take place in the developing world increased between 1995 and 2008, from 78% to 86%, in part because the proportion of all women who live in the developing world increased during this period.
• Nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and nearly all unsafe abortions occur in developing countries. In the developing world, 56% of all abortions are unsafe, compared with 6% in the developed world.
• Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is high, at 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and Latin America, respectively—regions where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. In Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000.
• Where abortion is legal on broad grounds, it is generally safe, and where it is illegal in most circumstances, it is generally unsafe. For example, in the United States, where abortion is legal on broad grounds, induced abortion results in 0.6 deaths per 100,000 procedures. In Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, abortion results in 30 and 460 deaths per 100,000 procedures, respectively.
• Each year 47,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortion, accounting for 13% of all maternal deaths worldwide. Almost all of these deaths occur in developing countries.
1. Sedgh G et al., Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008, Lancet, 2012 (forthcoming).
2. World Health Organization (WHO), Unsafe Abortion: Global and Regional Estimates of the Incidence of Unsafe Abortion and Associated Mortality in 2008, sixth ed., Geneva: WHO, 2011.