Volume 43, Issue 3
Pages 188 - 198

Legal Abortion Worldwide in 2008: Levels and Recent Trends


Periodic assessments of abortion incidence are essential for monitoring trends in unintended pregnancy and gaps in contraceptive services and use.


Statistics and estimates of legal induced abortions in 2008 were compiled for 64 of the 77 countries in which legal abortion is generally available; the 64 are home to 98% of women aged 15–44 who live in the countries eligible for inclusion. Data sources included reports or completed questionnaires from national statistical offices and nationally representative surveys. The completeness of official figures was assessed by in-country and regional experts. Trends since 1996 and 2003 were examined.


Of the 77 countries with liberal abortion laws, 36 are in the developing world. In 2008, abortion rates in the 25 countries with complete records—all of which were developed—ranged from seven (Germany and Switzerland) to 30 (Estonia) per 1,000 women aged 15–44. Abortion rates declined in about half of the 20 countries with consistently reliable information on trends between 1996 and 2008; declines were generally steeper than increases, although the pace of decline slowed after 2003. The highest observed abortion rates were in developing countries with incomplete estimates. For most developing countries that had liberal laws, the reported abortion rates were incomplete and varied widely.


High abortion rates in some countries, and small increases in rates in others, indicate a great need for more effective family planning services for these populations. Reliable data collection systems, needed to ensure that trends can be effectively monitored, are lacking in many countries.

Authors' Affiliations

Gilda Sedgh is senior research associate, Susheela Singh is vice president for research, Stanley K. Henshaw is senior fellow and Akinrinola Bankole is director of international research—all with the Guttmacher Institute, New York.

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

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