Worldwide Abortion Rates Down

Unsafe Abortions Are Most Common in Developing Countries

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 12, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 12, 2007 -- Four million fewer abortions were performed worldwide in 2003 than in 1995, according to a new study published in The Lancet.

The study includes international abortion statistics from 1995 and 2003, the most recent year for which abortion statistics are available in many countries.

Findings include:

  • There were 42 million abortions in 2003, down from 46 million in 1995.
  • The 2003 global abortion rate was 29 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, down from 35 per 1,000 in 1995.
  • The 2003 abortion rate in the U.S. and Canada was 21 per 1,000 women.
  • Western Europe had the lowest abortion rate.
  • Eastern Europe had the highest abortion rate.
  • Nearly half (48%) of all abortions in 2003 were unsafe, and most unsafe abortions (97%) were in developing countries.

The team of researchers who worked on the study included two experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and three from the Guttmacher Institute in New York, which focuses on sexual and reproductive health.


They used the WHO's definition of unsafe abortions, which include "any procedure to terminate an unintended pregnancy done either by people lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both."

Unsafe abortions included abortions in countries with "restrictive abortion laws, as well as abortions that do not meet legal requirements in countries with less restrictive laws," write the Guttmacher Institute's Gilda Sedgh, ScD, and colleagues.

Based on the findings, Sedgh's team writes that "unsafe and safe abortions correspond in large part with illegal and legal abortions, respectively."

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SOURCES: Sedgh, G. The Lancet, Oct. 13, 2007; vol 370: pp 1338-1345. Fredrick, B. The Lancet, Oct. 13, 2007; vol 370: pp 1295-1297. News release, The Lancet.

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