The proliferation of contraceptive devices worldwide has meant a decline in abortions, but the number of accidental pregnancies and back-alley abortions are rising at an alarming rate, according to a new international survey.
"In almost all developed countries, abortion is safe and legal," said Sharon Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute, which conducted the three-year study. "But in much of the developing world, abortion remains highly restricted, and unsafe abortion is common and continues to damage women's health and threaten their survival."
The institute, which supports abortion rights around the world, examined data from various nations as well as that of multinational organizations.
Fueling the decline in abortions is the rise in married women using contraception – from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003, the report concludes. The use of contraception had increased in every major region, except in Africa, where only 28 percent of married do, compared to at least 68 percent in other major regions, it says.
Perhaps one of the most startling findings is that abortions worldwide are declining even as more countries liberalize their abortion laws, according to the Institute. Only Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador have seriously stepped up restrictions on abortion, according to Guttmacher. Conversely, 19 countries and regions – including Cambodia, Nepal and Mexico City – eased restrictions on abortion.
Still, the institute says, 40 percent of the world's women live in nations where abortion laws are highly restrictive. That is particularly the case in developing nations of the world, it says. Some 92 percent of the women in Africa and 97 percent in Latin America, are bound by such restrictions, it said.
The report recommends that nations expand access to modern contraceptives and improve family planning services; expand access to legal abortion and ensure that safe, legal abortion services are available to women in need; and that they improve the coverage and quality of post-abortion care, which would reduce maternal death and complications from unsafe abortion.
"Legal restrictions do not stop abortion from happening, they just make the procedure dangerous," Camp said. "Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack legal abortion access."
Nearly half of the 41.6 million abortions in 2003 were unsafe – either self-induced, performed by unskilled practitioners, or carried out in unsanitary environments, the institute found.
"Almost all of them occurred in less developed countries with restrictive abortion laws," said the report, which estimated that 70,000 women are killed annually from unsafe abortions and 8 million women suffer complications because of them.