LONDON -- Abortion rates are higher in countries where the procedure is illegal and nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, with the vast majority in developing countries, a new study concludes.
Experts couldn't say whether more liberal laws led to fewer procedures, but said good access to birth control in those countries resulted in fewer unwanted pregnancies.
The global abortion rate remained virtually unchanged from 2003 to 2008, at about 28 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, a total of about 43.8 million abortions, according to the study. The rate had previously been dropping since 1995.
About 47,000 women died from unsafe abortions in 2008, and another 8.5 million women had serious medical complications. Almost all unsafe abortions were in developing countries, where family planning and contraceptive programs have mostly levelled off.
"An abortion is actually a very simple and safe procedure," said Gilda Sedgh, a senior researcher at the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, designated by the World Health Organization as an official Collaborating Center for Reproductive Health. "All of these deaths and complications are easily avoidable," said Sedgh, the study's lead author.
Sedgh and colleagues concluded that the proportion of unsafe abortions rose from 44 percent in 1995 to 49 percent in 2008, the last year for which statistics were available and studied in the report. Sedgh acknowledged it was difficult to get an accurate number for unsafe abortions in particular and described their estimates as modest. The research was published today in the journal, Lancet.