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J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2009 Dec;31(12):1149-58.

Unsafe abortion: global and regional incidence, trends, consequences, and challenges.

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Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.



This review aims to provide the latest global and regional estimates of the incidence and trends in induced abortion, both safe and unsafe. A related objective is to document maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion. The legal context of abortion and the international discourse on preventing unsafe abortion are reviewed to highlight policy implications and challenges in preventing unsafe abortion. METHODS AND DATA SOURCES: This review is based on estimates of unsafe abortion and maternal mortality ratios. These estimates are arrived at using the database on unsafe abortion maintained by the World Health Organization. Additional data from the Demographic and Health Surveys and the United Nations Population Division are used for further analysis of abortion and mortality estimates.


Each year 42 million abortions are estimated to take place, 22 million safely and 20 million unsafely. Unsafe abortion accounts for 70,000 maternal deaths each year and causes a further 5 million women to suffer temporary or permanent disability. Maternal mortality ratios (number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) due to complications of unsafe abortion are higher in regions with restricted abortion laws than in regions with no or few restrictions on access to safe and legal abortion.


Legal restrictions on safe abortion do not reduce the incidence of abortion. A woman's likelihood to have an abortion is about the same whether she lives in a region where abortion is available on request or where it is highly restricted. While legal and safe abortions have declined recently, unsafe abortions show no decline in numbers and rates despite their being entirely preventable. Providing information and services for modern contraception is the primary prevention strategy to eliminate unplanned pregnancy. Providing safe abortion will prevent unsafe abortion. In all cases, women should have access to post-abortion care, including services for family planning. The Millennium Development Goal to improve maternal health is unlikely to be achieved without addressing unsafe abortion and associated mortality and morbidity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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