Worldwide, 25 million unsafe abortions (45% of all abortions) occurred each year between 2010 and 2014, according to a new study by WHO and the Guttmacher Institute published in the medical journal The Lancet.
The majority of unsafe abortions, or 97%, occurred in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The new Lancet study provides estimates on safe and unsafe abortions globally. For the first time, it includes sub-classifications within the unsafe abortion category as less safe or least safe. The distinction allows for a more nuanced understanding of the different circumstances of abortions among women who are unable to access safe abortions from a trained provider.
When abortions are performed in accordance with WHO guidelines and standards, the risk of severe complications or death is negligible. Approximately 55% of all abortions from 2010 to 2014 were conducted safely, which means they were performed by a trained health worker.
In countries where abortion is completely banned or permitted only to save the woman’s life or preserve her physical health, only 1 in 4 abortions were safe; in countries where abortion is legal on broader grounds, nearly 9 in 10 abortions were done safely. Restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions. Most abortions that take place in Western and Northern Europe and North America are safe. These regions also have some of the lowest abortion rates. Most countries in these regions also have relatively permissive laws on abortion; high levels of contraceptive use, economic development, and gender equality; as well as high-quality health services – all factors that contribute to making abortion safer.
Finally, it's important to know that WHO and the UN recently launched a new, open-access database of laws, policies and health standards on abortion in countries worldwide. The database aims to promote greater transparency of abortion laws and policies, as well as to improve countries’ accountability for the protection of women's and girls’ health and human rights.