Legal abortion rates vary widely among countries with nonrestrictive laws. Data on trends in legal induced abortion may provide insight for policymakers into factors that influence rates of legal induced abortion and the levels of abortion that might be achievable in their own countries and in other parts of the world.
Numbers of legal induced abortions were estimated for 54 countries from official statistics or other national data. Abortion rates per 1,000 women aged 15-44 were calculated for the years 1975 through 1996.
The most striking recent trend is a sharp decline in abortion incidence in Eastern and Central Europe and the successor states to the Soviet Union. For example, rates fell by 28-47% in the four former Soviet states with reasonably complete data (Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan and Latvia), and by 18-65% in six states with less-complete reporting. Similar patterns were seen in such nations as Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics. Rates have also declined in several other developed countries: Since 1975, the abortion rate in such countries as Denmark, Finland, Italy and Japan has dropped by 40-50%. In only a few developed countries (among them Canada, New Zealand and Scotland) have abortion rates shown an increase over time. In the few developing countries with reliable data, some (China, South Korea, Tunisia and Turkey) have experienced a declining abortion rate, while others (such as Cuba and Vietnam) have seen increases in levels of abortion.
In developed countries with high abortion rates, use of abortion is likely to fall rapidly when a range of contraceptive methods become widely available and effectively used. Legalization of abortion and access to abortion services do not lead to increased reliance on abortion for fertility control in the long term; in developed countries with these conditions, the predominant trend in abortion rates has been downward.
International Family Planning Perspectives, 1999, 25(1):44-48