Background

In 2010–2014, approximately 86% of abortions took place in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Although abortion incidence varies minimally across geographical regions, it varies widely by subregion and within countries by subgroups of women. Differential abortion levels stem from variation in the level of unintended pregnancies and in the likelihood that women with unintended pregnancies obtain abortions.

Objectives

To examine the characteristics of women obtaining induced abortions in LMICs.

Methods

We use data from official statistics, population-based surveys, and abortion patient surveys to examine variation in the percentage distribution of abortions and abortion rates by age at abortion, marital status, parity, wealth, education, and residence. We analyze data from five countries in Africa, 13 in Asia, eight in Europe, and two in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

Results

Women across all sociodemographic subgroups obtain abortions. In most countries, women aged 20–29 obtained the highest proportion of abortions, and while adolescents obtained a substantial fraction of abortions, they do not make up a disproportionate share. Region-specific patterns were observed in the distribution of abortions by parity. In many countries, a higher fraction of abortions occurred among women of high socioeconomic status, as measured by wealth status, educational attainment, and urban residence. Due to limited data on marital status, it is unknown whether married or unmarried women make up a larger share of abortions.

Conclusions

These findings help to identify subgroups of women with disproportionate levels of abortion, and can inform policies and programs to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancies; and in LMICs that have restrictive abortion laws, these findings can also inform policies to minimize the consequences of unsafe abortion and motivate liberalization of abortion laws. Program planners, policymakers, and advocates can use this information to improve access to safe abortion services, postabortion care, and contraceptive services.