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Abortion Rates Stay Steady in Poor Nations, Drop in Rich, Study Finds

FILE - Roman Catholics protest the legalization of abortion, bearing signs that read "For Life" outside Congress in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Dec. 9, 2014.

Abortion rates have plummeted to an all-time low in developed countries, but in developing countries, where many abortions are unsafe, rates have remained level, a new study shows.

The study published Wednesday in the medical journal Lancet also found that imposing restrictive laws does little to lower abortion rates, but is more likely to force people into having unsafe terminations.

The researchers found that 56 million abortions are performed globally every year among women aged 15 to 44 and that about one in four pregnancies ends in abortion.

The results highlight the lack of access to modern contraception methods in poorer countries.

"In developing countries ... family planning services do not seem to be keeping up with the increasing desire for smaller families," said Gilda Sedgh, who led the research at the Guttmacher Institute in the United States.

Nearly 75 percent of abortions are sought by married women, the study found.

Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, March 2, 2016.
Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, March 2, 2016.

The abortion rate in rich countries fell to an all-time low between 1990 and 2014, from about 46 per 1,000 women in 1990 to 27 abortions per 1,000 women in 2014, mainly because the rate in Eastern Europe plummeted as contraceptives became more available.

Yet in poorer countries, the abortion rate remained virtually unchanged, dropping from 39 to 37.

The world's highest rate of abortions was in the Caribbean, at about 65 abortions per 1,000 women. The lowest rate was in North America, at 17.

The study also found that termination rates were similar in countries where abortion is legal and where it is prohibited.