Report finds nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe

More than 55 million abortions take place globally each year, and nearly half — 25.5 million — are unsafe, according to a new study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

The study authors say the research, led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Guttmacher Institute in New York, highlights the need for safe access to abortion for all women to the full extent of the law, and for outdated, unsafe methods to be replaced.

“Even though it’s difficult to measure and estimate something like abortion where data is limited, trying to get a handle at least of figuring out what the burden of unsafe abortion might be is important to begin to address the problem,” study author Dr. Bela Ganatra, a scientist at the WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, told CBS News. “As long as we keep it invisible, we’re not going to be able to find solutions.”

The overwhelming majority of unsafe abortions — about 97 percent — take place in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

In North America, 99 percent of procedures were considered safe.

The results also show that countries with high proportions of safe procedures were also more likely to have less restrictive abortion laws.

The researchers compiled data on abortion from 61 countries from the years 2010 to 2014. The data came from routinely collected national statistics, demographic and reproductive health surveys, and national and sub-national studies.

The authors categorized the procedures into three categories: safe, less safe, and least safe.

For an abortion to be considered safe, it had to be performed with a method recommended by WHO that was appropriate to the pregnancy duration, and the person providing the abortion had to be properly trained.

An abortion was classified as less safe if only one of the two criteria were met — either the abortion was performed by a trained provider with an outdated method, or it was done with a safe method but without the support of a trained provider.

Ganatra said the less-safe category is seen “largely in regions of the world where women are using medications like mifepristone and misoprostol” — prescriptions drugs for ending a very early pregnancy — “by themselves outside of medical assistance because they don’t have access to other ways of having an abortion. Now, these are very safe medicines but in these situations women have to use it without any guarantee about the quality of the drugs, without the appropriate information, or somebody to go to for…

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