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Transcript: "Worldwide Abortion"

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Women in all parts of the world have abortions. And they have them for similar reasons. Where it is illegal, many women still resort to abortion, even when that means breaking the law.

In fact, there is little relationship between the legal status of abortion and how often it occurs. Some of the highest abortion rates in the world are in Latin America and Africa, where abortion is highly restricted in almost every country—but where many women have unintended pregnancies.

The world’s lowest abortion rates are in Western Europe, where the procedure is legal and widely accessible—but where effective contraceptive use is high and unintended pregnancy rates are low.

The way to reduce abortion is not to outlaw it, but to help women avoid unintended pregnancies in the first place.

In the developing world, 222 million women want to avoid pregnancy but are not using a modern contraceptive method. For many, the limited contraceptive services and methods available to them do not meet their needs. Others lack access to family planning services altogether. And some women need better counseling and more power to make their own childbearing decisions.

If these women’s family planning needs were met, the results would be dramatic. Unintended pregnancies would decline from 80 million to 26 million annually and there would be 26 million fewer abortions each year.

Most importantly, thousands of women’s lives would be saved.

Making abortion illegal does not stop it from occurring. It just drives it underground. Women are then forced to seek risky procedures, often performed by untrained providers or under unsanitary conditions; and many even try to perform abortions on themselves.

The consequences can be horrific. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal death. Every year, 47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortion. Virtually all of these deaths occur in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws. Millions more are injured, some seriously and permanently.

This is a public health crisis that must be addressed.

Ensuring that women have access to medical treatment after an unsafe abortion, if needed, is essential to reducing maternal deaths and injuries—but it is only one step.

In every country, even those with the highest levels of contraceptive use, there will be a need for abortion. It’s the basic right of every woman to make her own decision about whether and when to have a child—without having to put her health or her life at risk. It is time for all countries to make that right a reality.