Abortion rates are similar in countries where the procedure is legal and in countries where it is not, and the number of abortions worldwide is declining due to increased access to contraception, according to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization and published Friday in the Lancet, the New York Times reports. The study also found that abortions were "safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely," according to the Times. For the study, Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute and colleagues from WHO examined abortion trends from 1995 to 2003 in developed and developing countries where the procedure is legal and prohibited. The researchers used national data for countries where abortion was legal and estimated abortion rates from countries where it is illegal, using data on hospital admissions for abortion complications, interviews with local family planning experts and surveys of women in those countries, the Times reports.
The study found that the number of abortions worldwide has decreased from about 46 million in 1995 to about 42 million in 2003. The majority of abortions, 35 million, occurred in developing countries, and 97% of all unsafe abortions -- those performed either by people without the necessary skills or in a setting that does not conform to minimum medical standards -- were performed in low-income countries, the study found.
About 20 million unsafe abortions were performed each year, and about 67,000 women died from complications from those abortions, mostly in countries where the procedure is banned, according to the study.
In Eastern Europe, where contraceptive access has increased in recent years, abortion rates declined by 50%, the study found. However, there are 105 abortions per every 100 live births in Eastern Europe, compared with 33 abortions per 100 live births in North America and 17 abortions per 100 live births in Africa, according to the study. The largest number of abortions, 26 million in 2003, occurred in Asia, including about nine million procedures in China.
The study also found that in Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 abortions per 1,000 women in 2003. The rate in the U.S. was 21 per 1,000 women in 2003, and in Western Europe, where abortion is legal and contraception is widely available, the abortion rate was 12 per 1,000 women, according to the study.