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Study: Abortion Rates Similar in Countries Where Practice Legal to Where Outlawed


A global study finds that abortion rates are about the same in countries where it is legal and where it is outlawed. As Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva, the World Health Organization study also says the number of abortions has dropped worldwide due to more use of birth control and better family planning.

The study, conducted jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute reports the number of abortions worldwide has dropped from about 46 million in 1995 to just under 42 million in 2003.

But the study says unsafe abortions, performed in countries where it is illegal, can be dangerous.

Director of the World Health Organization's department of reproductive health and research Paul Van Look tells VOA, unsafe abortions are responsible for 13 percent of the total number of maternal deaths worldwide.

"The current estimate of the total number of maternal deaths in 2005 was 536,000, and 13 percent, or about 67,000 of those deaths, are due to women dying as a result of complications of unsafe abortions, which happens primarily in the developing countries," he said.

Dr. Van Look says family planning and the use of contraceptives is a very effective way of decreasing the number of abortions and of preventing unsafe abortions and deaths.

He cites the example of Central and Eastern Europe where the number of legal abortions has been cut in half over the last seven or eight years.

"And, that is entirely attributable to the fact that women, couples now use much more contraception than they did seven or eight years ago when abortion was kind of the only way that was available to them to keep their family size to the desired level," he explained.

He says the number of maternal deaths dropped in South Africa when the country legalized abortion after the end of apartheid.

"Maternal mortality associated with unsafe abortion as it was originally has dropped by 90 percent," he added. "So, that kind of shows, at least as far as abortion is concerned, how maternal mortality can be influenced in a positive way."

The report says Western Europe has the lowest rates of abortion at 12 pregnancy terminations per 1,000 women. It is highest in Eastern Europe at 44 abortions per 1,000 women. The study says the abortion rate in Africa and Asia is 29 per 1,000 women.

Groups that oppose abortion have criticized the report, calling the statistics faulty.