At a time when countries around the world (such as Colombia, Burkina Faso, Nepal and Switzerland) are examining their abortion policies and instituting more liberal laws that protect the health of women, the Nicaraguan Congress voted on October 26 to ban all abortions in the country. This makes the country’s already extreme abortion policy even more extreme, and promises to further endanger the lives of Nicaraguan women.
One in four of the world’s women—and half of the women in the developing world—live in countries that severely restrict or block their ability to obtain a legal abortion. However, research shows that the legality of abortion in a country has little bearing on whether or not abortions take place. Some of the world’s lowest abortion rates are found in the countries with the most liberal abortion laws; by contrast, countries where the procedure is severely restricted often have high rates. For example, in Peru and Chile, where abortion is severely restricted, the procedure occurs at rates of 52 and 45 per 1,000 women aged 15–44, respectively. By comparison, even in the United States, which has one of the highest abortion rates in the developed world, the rate is less than half the rate in Peru.
Thus, abortion continues to occur in countries where it is illegal—but it is often clandestine and unsafe. Thirteen percent of the 500,000 deaths worldwide from pregnancy-related causes each year are associated with unsafe abortion; in Latin America, the proportion is as high as 21%. In some developing countries, women suffering from complications of illegal abortion account for two of every three maternity beds in large urban hospitals, consuming as much as one-half of obstetrics and gynecology budgets.
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