Almost half of abortions annually are unsafe

28, an worldwide research group reports in a new paper with senior author Leontine Alkema at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that out of the 55.7 million abortions that are estimated to have occurred each year between 2010 and 2014, nearly half (45.1%) were unsafe. To find out, a team led by researchers at the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in NY scoured abortion data from 61 countries and determined the level of safety for each procedure. This distinction was used to offer “a more nuanced description of the spectrum of varying situations that constitute unsafe abortion”.

“Less safe” abortions – accounting for 30.7 percent of the total – include those induced with the drug misoprostol without the support of professional health providers, or those performed by trained personnel using outdated methods, such as scraping the lining of the uterus with a surgical tool. “Hence the further break-down of unsafe abortions into less and least safe is important to provide a better understanding of abortion safety”. “But despite recent advances in technology and evidence, too many unsafe abortions still occur, and too many women continue to suffer and die”.

Most abortions that take place in Western and Northern Europe and North America are safe.

The researchers categorized abortions as “safe” or “unsafe” and created two subcategories within the unsafe category, “less safe” and “least safe”.

Ganatra said the laws and wealth of a country influence the safety of abortions.

The percentage of abortions that were safe in countries where the procedure is legal and available on request.

Among the trends that emerged: Countries that placed fewer legal restrictions on abortion tended to have a higher proportion of safe procedures.

Of the 25.1 million unsafe abortions that occurred annually between 2010 and 2014, 8.0 million were estimated to be least safe.

As Alkema explains, “For an abortion to be safe, both the method used as well as the abortion provider need to be in line with World Health Organization guidelines”. In these countries, 49.5% of abortions were unsafe. Outside of Southern Africa, less than 1 in 4 abortions in Africa were safe.

The percentage of abortions that were safe in low-income countries. Of those unsafe abortions, the majority were characterized as “least safe”.

Unsafe abortion occurs when a pregnancy is terminated either by persons lacking the necessary skills/information or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.

“Increasing the availability, accessibility and affordability of contraception can reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancies and, therefore, abortions”, Ganatra said in a statement about the study.

“But it is essential to combine this strategy with interventions to ensure access to safe abortions”. The database aims to promote greater transparency of abortion laws and policies, as well as to improve countries’ accountability for the protection of women and girls’ health and human rights.

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