Global Health

Research Shows Cost of Unsafe Abortions in Developing Countries

New research shows that inadequate access to safe and legal abortion worldwide causes up to 7 million women in developing countries to be treated for complications from unsafe abortions.

via Free Wind 2014 /

The Guttmacher Institute data was collected by Susheela Singh and Isaac Maddow-Zimet and shows that an estimated 6.9 million women in developing regions worldwide were treated for medical complications resulting from unsafe abortions in 2012. The data indicate that because many women who experience unsafe abortion-related complications often do not seek medical attention or are unable to receive care, the actual number is likely much higher. What’s more, an estimated 15 percent of maternal deaths per year are related to complications from unsafe abortions, and the cost of treating these complications globally reaches up to $232 million.

This astounding number reflects the lack of access to safe, legal abortion for women worldwide. Previous research from the Guttmacher Institute shows that 22 million unsafe abortions are performed each year, killing 22,000 women. Researchers estimate, however, that these data are likely low due to a lack of reporting for unsafe abortions.

Access to funding for safe and legal abortion is also an issue. Currently, the Helms Amendment prohibits the use of US funding to provide abortion, although exceptions are made in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Organizations and activists have long fought for a reinterpretation of the Helms Amendment, or a repeal of the Amendment altogether.

The Guttmacher research notes that treatment for abortion complications in Latin America is declining, whereas the rate in Asia has remained mostly constant. In Latin America the rate dropped from 7.7 per 1,000 women in 2005 to 5.3 per 1,000- a 31% drop.

“The specific causes of this decline are uncertain,” said Singh, “but it is possible that increased use of misoprostol—a drug used to end pregnancy—played a role.” The drug is FDA approved in the United States and has been shown to be highly effective and safe when used correctly.

Singh calls on better preventative measures to help prevent this level of death and suffering from unsafe abortions.

“Better contraceptive counseling and services, a better range of choice of methods, a follow-up of women if they have a problem with a method to offer them something else,” Singh recommends. “Doing so would reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy, which is the root cause of most abortions.”

Media Resources: Guttmacher Institute 8/19/15; Feminist Newswire 2/15/13; 6/8/15;

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