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Worldwide Abortion: Legality, Incidence and Safety

Susan Cohen

Susan Cohen
Vice President for Public Policy

“The gains we’ve seen in reducing global abortion rates are modest in relation to what we can achieve—and progress has stalled. Far too many women lack access to the contraceptive services and supplies they want and need, putting them at risk for unintended pregnancy and abortion,” notes Susan Cohen, the Guttmacher Institute’s vice president for public policy. “Legal restrictions do not stop abortion; mainly, they drive it underground. Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack access to legal, safe abortion services.”

“The United States remains the single largest donor to family planning services in the developing world, but that support is not keeping pace with the global need,” says Susan Cohen, the Guttmacher Institute’s vice president for public policy. “Even as world population increases, including the number of women of reproductive age, the U.S. investment has declined over the past year.” If we are serious about reducing maternal mortality and improving the well-being of women, the United States needs to do more to reduce unsafe abortion and its devastating consequences in the developing world. Investment in international family planning programs needs to increase and restrictive policies that prevent the United States from providing assistance for safe abortion must be reexamined.”

“The evidence makes clear that if a woman is determined to avoid a birth, she will resort to an abortion if that is her only option, regardless of the law. All too often this means putting her own life at risk. Until unsafe abortion is embraced as a public health issue needing urgent attention, women, their families and communities will continue to suffer the consequences.”

“Policymakers and funders must do more to acknowledge the impact of unsafe abortion on women, families and communities. Ensuring access to family planning services, postabortion care and safe abortion services are all critical to reducing maternal mortality and meeting the Millennium Development Goals.”

Gilda Sedgh
Principal Research Scientist

“The long-term decline in global abortion rates has stalled, at the same time that abortions are becoming concentrated in developing countries, where the procedure is often clandestine and unsafe. This is cause for concern” says Gilda Sedgh, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute. “This plateau coincides with a slowdown in contraceptive uptake. Without greater investment in quality family planning services, we can expect the plateau to persist.”

“Global maternal mortality related to unsafe abortion is 350 times higher than the rate associated with legal induced abortions in the United States,” notes Gilda Sedgh, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute. “Within developing countries in particular, these risks are greatest among the poorest women, who have the least access to family planning services and to safe abortion procedures. Poor women are also least likely to have access to postabortion care when they need treatment for complications.”

“Addressing the global unmet need for contraception is critical in promoting the well-being of women, their families and ultimately a nation’s ability to meet its developmental goals. This is especially true in those parts of the developing world where modern contraceptive use is still low and injury and death related to clandestine abortion is high.”