World Health Organisation says 25 million unsafe abortions performed per year

Nearly Half of Abortions Around the World Are Unsafe

28, an worldwide research group reports in a new paper with senior author Leontine Alkema at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that out of the 55.7 million abortions that are estimated to have occurred each year between 2010 and 2014, almost half (45.1%) were unsafe.

"Even though it's hard 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.

Some 30.7 per cent (17.1 million) of abortions are considered " less safe ". The most recent previous estimates, published in 2012, found that 21.6 of 43.8 million abortions in 2008 were unsafe. To find out, a team led by researchers at the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in NY scoured abortion data from 61 countries and determined the level of safety for each procedure.

This means the procedure was conducted by a trained professional who used an outdated abortion method, or a newer method was used (for instance, drugs like mifeprisone and misoprostol) but without adequate medical support.

About 14 per cent were "least safe" abortions provided by untrained persons using risky methods, such as introduction of foreign objects and use of herbal concoctions.

"The vast majority of unsafe abortions in Africa were categorised as "least safe", and were associated with high rates of death", the researchers said in a statement.

Developing countries had a significantly higher proportion of unsafe abortions than developed countries (49.5 versus 12.5 percent). Restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions.

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About 8 million abortions, or 14 percent, were classified as "least safe". Yet in South-Central Asia, less than one in two abortions were safe. That's the population of London, times three, every year, potentially suffering the impacts of an unsafe abortion.

"I think that there's no question that unsafe abortion continues to be one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, and importantly this is preventable", said Haddad, who was not involved in the new study. Of those unsafe abortions, the majority were characterized as "least safe".

Such a disparity often emerges when any health outcome is measured in developed versus developing regions, but safe abortion care is possible in developing countries, Ganatra said.

The researchers themselves noted in the study that, in general, empirical data on abortions were scarce, especially in countries where abortions were legally restricted, stigmatized or less likely to be reported. The database aims to promote greater transparency of abortion laws and policies, as well as to improve countries' accountability for the protection of women and girls' health and human rights.

A separate study found that in 2012 nearly 7 million women were treated for complications of unsafe abortions in the developing world.

Provision of safe, legal abortion is essential to fulfilling the global commitment to the Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health (target 3.7). Those complications included incomplete abortions, hemorrhaging and infections.

The findings highlight a strong link between abortion laws and safety.

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