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Playing it Safe: Legal and Clandestine Abortions among Adolescents in Ethiopia

Elizabeth A. Sully, Guttmacher Institute Yohannes Dibaba, Ipas Ethiopia Tamara Fetters, Ipas Nakeisha Blades, Guttmacher Institute Akinrinola Bankole, Guttmacher Institute

First published on Journal of Adolescent Health:

| DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.12.015
Abstract / Summary

The 2005 expansion of the Ethiopian abortion law provided minors access to legal abortions, yet little is known about abortion among adolescents. This paper estimates the incidence of legal and clandestine abortions and the severity of abortion-related complications among adolescent and nonadolescent women in Ethiopia in 2014.


This paper uses data from three surveys: a Health Facility Survey (n = 822) to collect data on legal abortions and postabortion complications, a Health Professionals Survey (n = 82) to estimate the share of clandestine abortions that resulted in treated complications, and a Prospective Data Survey (n = 5,604) to collect data on abortion care clients. An age-specific variant of the Abortion Incidence Complications Method was used to estimate abortions by age-group.


Adolescents have the lowest abortion rate among all women below age 35 (19.6 per 1,000 women). After adjusting for lower levels of sexual activity among adolescents however, we find that adolescents have the highest abortion rate among all age-groups. Adolescents also have the highest proportion (64%) of legal abortions compared with other age-groups. We find no differences in the severity of abortion-related complications between adolescent and nonadolescent women.


We find no evidence that adolescents are more likely than older women to have clandestine abortions. However, the higher abortion and pregnancy rates among sexually active adolescents suggest that they face barriers in access to and use of contraceptive services. Further work is needed to address the persistence of clandestine abortions among adolescents in a context where safe and legal abortion is available.