Sexual and reproductive health

Abortion rates drop in more developed regions but fail to improve in developing regions*

12 May 2016 -- New estimates, published today in the Lancet, indicate that the induced abortion rate has declined significantly in more developed countries between 1990 and 2014, but not in developing countries.

Mozambique: a health worker reiterates to her client the advantages and disadvantages of different family planning methods.
After inserting an implant into a client's arm, a health worker reiterates to her the advantages and disadvantages of different family planning methods. Mozambique
Arturo Sanabria/Photoshare

“Making greater investments in quality family planning services, providing safe abortion to the full extent of the law and ensuring post-abortion care including post-abortion contraception are essential public health strategies.”

Bela Ganatra, Scientist, WHO

Key facts on induced abortion worldwide

A new study, undertaken by the Guttmacher Institute and WHO, has estimated that, worldwide, during the period 2010-2014, there were 35 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44. This translates to over 56 million abortions per year.

The study shows marked differences between the regions that are classified by the UNPD as developed (Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan) and those that are classified as developing regions.

While, in the more developed regions the abortion rate has declined by 41% since 1990-94 to a current rate of 27 abortions per 1000 women, the abortion rate in developing regions has remained virtually unchanged for the past 25 years at a rate of 37 abortions per 1000 women. Nearly 88% of all abortions take place in developing regions.

The continuing high rates of abortion, particularly in developing regions, clearly underscore the need to improve and expand access to effective contraceptive services. Ensuring that women and couples have access to a wide range of effective contraceptive methods to choose from and that they receive comprehensive information about how to use their chosen method consistently and correctly is sound public health policy. Investing in modern contraceptive methods would be far less costly to women and society than the costs of managing the outcomes of unintended pregnancies.

However, unintended pregnancies also occur among women using contraceptive methods who experience method failure or those who become pregnant as a result of rape. Women may also seek abortion for other reasons related to their health or other circumstances. In such situations, they should have access to safe abortion services to the full extent of the law. Where safe abortion services are not available, women may resort to an unsafe procedure and be at risk of severe complications and possibly death. Access to post-abortion care is critical to address such complications, counsel the woman on appropriate care, and ensure she has access to contraceptive services.

This paper is the first of a two part series. Using a new conceptual and methodological approach, the second paper will provide global and regional estimates of the proportion of abortions that are unsafe. These estimates will be published later this year.

Related links

* Developed and developing regions as categorized by the United Nations Population Division (UNPD)