Unsafe abortions rise according to WHO study

The number of abortions carried out without trained clinical help rose between 1995 and 2008, according to a study by the World Health Organisation.

The number of abortions carried out without trained clinical help rose between 1995 and 2008, according to a new study by the World Health Organisation.

Global abortion rates are steady at 28 per 1,000 women a year but the proportion of abortions carried out without trained clinical help rose from 44 per cent in 1995 to 49 per cent in 2008.

The Lancet, a leading medical journal which carried out the report on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the figures were deeply disturbing.

Unsafe abortion – procedures conducted outside hospitals, clinics and surgeries or without qualified medical supervision – is one of the main contributors to maternal death worldwide. Women in these environments are more vulnerable to dangerous infection or bleeding.

Professor Beverly Winkoff, from Gynuity, a New York organisation which campaigns for access to safer abortion, said: “Unsafe abortion is one of the five major contributors to maternal mortality, causing one in every seven or eight maternal deaths in 2008.

“Yet when abortion is provided with proper medical techniques and care, the risk of death is negligible and nearly 14 times lower than that of childbirth.”

The WHO study showed that 86 per cent of abortions in 2008 took place in developing countries and that nearly half of all abortions worldwide were unsafe.

Most abortions in developing countries are unsafe, with 97 per cent of abortions in Africa and 95 per cent of abortions in Latin America described this way, compared with 40 per cent in Oceania and nine per cent in Europe.

The Lancet used surveys, official statistics and hospital records to compile figures, often a difficult task in countries where abortion is illegal. They concluded that while the abortion rate had fallen since 1995, the rise in world population meant there were 2.2m more abortions in 2008 than in 2003.

In the developed world, the proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion fell from 30 per cent in 1995 to 26 per cent in 2008. Countries with restrictive abortion laws, such as Zambia, did not have a corresponding decrease in abortion rate – in some cases the reverse was true.

The data suggests that women who wish to terminate unwanted pregnancies will seek abortion at any cost, even if it is illegal or involves risk to their own lives.

Aid from Great Britain aims to prevent millions of unintended pregnancies by providing access to contraception for 10m women over the next four years.

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