Context: Assessments of abortion levels and trends by women's age at termination can be used to monitor trends in unintended pregnancy by age and can inform relevant programs and policies.
Methods: Legal abortion incidence data were compiled from national statistical offices and nationally representative surveys of more than 40 countries where legal abortion is generally available. Age-specific abortion rates and percentage distributions of abortions by age were computed, and trends since 1996 and 2003 were examined. Subregional and regional estimates were developed for geographic areas where the majority of the population was represented by the data.
Results: The median year for the most recent estimates of abortions by woman's age was 2009. Adolescents accounted for a smaller share of abortions than their share of the population in the majority of eligible countries with data. In most countries, the highest age-specific abortion rates and proportions of abortions were among women aged 20–29. Since 1996, adolescent abortion rates have increased the most in Belgium, the Netherlands and Scotland (22–42%), and have decreased the most in Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Slovakia and Slovenia (40–55%). The proportion of abortions obtained by adolescents was higher in North America (18%) than in Europe overall (11%), although the proportion in Northern Europe (18%) was the same as that in North America.
Conclusions: Higher abortion rates in particular age-groups probably reflect higher-than-average levels of unmet need for contraception or difficulty using methods consistently and effectively, and a stronger desire to avoid childbearing. Each of the patterns observed has implications for service and information needs within countries.
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2013, 45(1):13–22
Gilda Sedgh is senior research associate, Akinrinola Bankole is director of international research, Susheela Singh is vice president for research and Michelle Eilers is research assistant —all with the Guttmacher Institute, New York.