U.N. Reports 20 Million Unsafe Abortions Annually

According to a U.N. report, each year 20 million women around the world risk their lives obtaining unsafe abortions. Approximately 80,000 women die from unsafe abortions annually.

Dr. Jerker Liljestrand of the World Health Organization said that of the 20 million unsafe abortions performed, 95 percent are carried out in developing countries, by untrained practitioners in unclean environments using unrefined methods.

Liljestrand, WHO’s chief of maternal and newborn health, said that some methods include pressing weights on a woman’s abdomen to expel the fetus, or prescribing special “potions.” “And there isn’t a backup necessary if complications arise. … The poorer the woman, the more likely she’ll have to settle for a more dangerous abortion. … If a woman is poor and desperate enough she will get a back street abortion or a botched abortion,” said Liljestrand.

Carla Abou-Zahr, WHO’s technical director of reproductive health, said that mechanical methods of abortion include, “very vigorous massages to the woman’s abdomen or applying heavy weights in an attempt to expel the fetus. … Sometimes a stick or a needle is inserted into the cervix,” or “a liquid preparation such as soap, not always very effective, is sometimes introduced to provoke the abortion. This often introduces infection.”

The study stated that between 10 and 50 percent of all women who undergo unsafe abortions suffer complications, including severe infection, hemorrhaging and puncturing or tearing of the uterus. Complications also include long-term problems, such as pelvic pain or inflammatory disease, tubal blockage and secondary infertility.

The report said that up to 50 percent of developing countries’ hospital budgets go towards treating the complications of unsafe abortions. “Contrary to common belief, the legalization of abortion does not necessarily increase abortion rates,” the study declared. “The Netherlands, for example, has a non-restrictive abortion law, widely accessible contraceptives and free abortion services, and the lowest abortion rate in the world.”

The WHO report urged international organizations and governments to work towards universal access to family planning, the availability of safe abortions, and better post-abortion care.

Feminist News Stories on Abortion


AP - March 20, 1998

Support eh ERA banner