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Unsafe abortion

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Title: Unsafe abortion  
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Subject: Abortion in the Dominican Republic, Abortion in the United States, Abortion, History of abortion, Abortion statistics in the United States
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Unsafe abortion

Soviet poster circa 1925. Title translation: "Abortions performed by either trained or self-taught midwives not only maim the woman, they also often lead to death."

An unsafe abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by people lacking the necessary skills, or in an environment lacking minimal medical standards, or both.[1] For example, an unsafe abortion may refer to an extremely dangerous life-threatening procedure that is self-induced in unhygienic conditions, or it may refer to a much safer abortion performed by a medical practitioner who does not provide appropriate post-abortion attention.[2]

Unsafe abortion is a significant cause of maternal mortality and morbidity in the world. Most unsafe abortions occur where abortion is illegal,[3] or in developing countries where affordable well-trained medical practitioners are not readily available,[4][5] or where modern contraceptives are unavailable.[6] About one in eight pregnancy-related deaths worldwide is associated with unsafe abortion.[7]


The [9] Worldwide, 48% of all induced abortions are unsafe. The British Medical Bulletin reported in 2003 that 70,000 women a year die from unsafe abortion.[10]

An article pre-printed by the World Health Organization called safe, legal abortion a "fundamental right of women, irrespective of where they live" and unsafe abortion a "silent pandemic".[11] The article states "ending the silent pandemic of unsafe abortion is an urgent public-health and human-rights imperative." It also states "access to safe abortion improves women’s health, and vice versa, as documented in Romania during the regime of President Nicolae Ceaușescu" and "legalisation of abortion on request is a necessary but insufficient step toward improving women’s health" citing that in some countries, such as India where abortion has been legal for decades, access to competent care remains restricted because of other barriers. WHO’s Global Strategy on Reproductive Health, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2004, noted: “As a preventable cause of maternal mortality and morbidity, unsafe abortion must be dealt with as part of the MDG on improving maternal health and other international development goals and targets."[12] The WHO's Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP), whose research concerns people's sexual and reproductive health and lives,[13] has an overall strategy to combat unsafe abortion that comprises four interrelated activities:[12]

  • to collate, synthesize and generate scientifically sound evidence on unsafe abortion prevalence and practices;
  • to develop improved technologies and implement interventions to make abortion safer;
  • to translate evidence into norms, tools and guidelines;
  • and to assist in the development of programmes and policies that reduce unsafe abortion and improve access to safe abortion and highquality postabortion care

A 2007 study published in the The Lancet found that, although the global rate of abortion declined from 45.6 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003, unsafe procedures still accounted for 48% of all abortions performed in 2003. It also concluded that, while the overall incidence of abortion in both developed and developing countries is approximately equal, unsafe abortion occurs more often in less-developed nations.[14]

Anti-abortion critics contend that the results of The Lancet study are flawed, as there are no accurate statistics about abortion from countries in the developing world.[15][16] In a 2005 report, the WHO itself states, “More than a third of the 204 countries or areas examined did not report the number of deaths by sex even once for the period 1995 to 2003. About half did not report deaths by cause, sex and age at least once in the same period. Moreover, from 1975 to 2003 there has been limited progress in the reporting of deaths and their causes.”[17]

Conflating illegal and unsafe abortion

Unsafe abortions often occur where abortion is illegal.[3] However, the prevalence of unsafe abortion may also be determined by other factors, such as whether it occurs in a developing country that has a low level of competent medical care,[18] and whether modern contraceptives are available.[6][19]

Unsafe abortions sometimes occur where abortion is legal, and safe abortions sometimes occur where abortion is illegal.[20] Legalization is not always followed by elimination of unsafe abortion.[2][4] Affordable safe services may be unavailable despite legality, and conversely women may be able to afford medically competent services despite illegality.[21]

When abortion is illegal, that generally contributes to the prevalence of unsafe abortion, but it is not the only contributor. In addition, a lack of access to safe and effective contraception contributes to unsafe abortion. It has been estimated that the incidence of unsafe abortion could be reduced by as much as 73% without any change in abortion laws if modern family planning and maternal health services were readily available globally.[6]

Illegality of abortion contributes to maternal mortality, but that contribution is not as great as it once was, due to medical advances including penicillin and the birth control pill.[22]

Incidence by continent

Region Number of unsafe abortions (thousands) Number of unsafe abortions per 100 live births Number of unsafe abortions per 1000 women
Africa 4200 14 24
Asia* 10500 14 13
Europe 500 7 3
Latin America and the Caribbean 3700 32 29
North America Negligible incidence Negligible incidence Negligible incidence
Oceania ** 30 12 17
World 19000 14 14
* Excluding Japan
** Excluding Australia and New Zealand

Source: WHO 2006[23]

Incidents in the U.S. after 1973

In 2005, the Detroit News reported that a 16-year-old boy beat his pregnant, under-age girlfriend with a bat at her request to abort a fetus. The young couple lived in Michigan, where parental consent is required to receive an abortion.[24][25][26] In Indiana, where there are also parental consent laws, a young woman by the name of Becky Bell died from an unsafe abortion rather than discuss her pregnancy and wish for an abortion with her parents.[27][28]

In 2011, Kermit Gosnell, a licensed doctor who provided abortion services in the American state of Pennsylvania, was indicted by a grand jury on murder charges after a woman died in his clinic. The grand jury found that the conditions in Dr. Gosnell's clinic were not only unsanitary and that Dr. Gosnell staffed his clinic with unlicensed individuals, he had also commonly conducted the lesser known practice of severing the spinal cords of newly born babies.[29]


Methods of unsafe abortion include:

Health risks

Unsafe abortion is a major cause of injury and death among women worldwide. Although data are imprecise, it is estimated that approximately 20 million unsafe abortions are performed annually, with 97% taking place in [36]

Illegal abortion

An illegal abortion may be called a "back-alley", "backstreet", or "back-yard" abortion.

The wire coat hanger method was a popularly known illegal abortion procedure, although they were not the norm. In fact, Mary Calderone, former medical director of Planned Parenthood, said, in a 1960 printing of the American Journal of Public Health:[39]

"Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physician. In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind, second, and even more important, the conference [on abortion sponsored by Planned Parenthood] estimated that 90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians. Whatever trouble arises usually arises from self-induced abortions, which comprise approximately 8 percent, or with the very small percentage that go to some kind of non-medical abortionist. Abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians."

Herbal abortions (when done illegally) can also be described as an unsafe abortions because they are not induced in a medical facility.

See also


  1. ^ Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems, page 12 (World Health Organization 2003): "a procedure for terminating an unwanted pregnancy either by persons lacking the necessary skill or in an environment lacking the minimum medical standards, or both."
  2. ^ a b "Unsafe abortion: Global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2003" (PDF).  
  3. ^ a b Rosenthal, Elisabeth (October 2007). "Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare".  
  4. ^ a b Blas, Erik et al. Equity, social determinants and public health programmes, pages 182-183 (World Health Organization 2010).
  5. ^ Chaudhuri, S.K. Practice Of Fertility Control: A Comprehensive Manual, 7th Edition, page 259 (Elsevier India, 2007).
  6. ^ a b c Singh, Susheela et al. Adding it Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Newborn Health (New York: Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund 2009): "If women’s contraceptive needs were addressed...the number of unsafe abortions would decline by 73% from 20 million to 5.5 million." A few of the findings in that report were subsequently changed, and are available at: "Facts on Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health" (Guttmacher Institute 2010).
  7. ^ Maclean, Gaynor. "Dimension, Dynamics and Diversity; A 3D Approach to Appraising Global Maternal and Neonatal Health Initiatives", pages 299-300 in Trends in Midwifery Research by Randell Balin (Nova Publishers, 2005).
  8. ^ " Unsafe abortion Global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2008, pg2" (World Health Organization 2011): "It was estimated that in 2003 approximately 42 million pregnancies were voluntarily terminated: 22 million safely and 20 million unsafely."
  9. ^ Nour NM (2008). "An Introduction to Maternal Mortality". Reviews in Ob Gyn 1: 77–81. 
  10. ^ Grimes, David A. (2003-12-01). "Unsafe Abortion: The Silent Scourge". British Medical Bulletin 67 (1): 99–113.  
  11. ^ Grimes, David A. "Unsafe Abortion - The Preventable Pandemic*". Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  12. ^ a b "Preventing unsafe abortion". WHO. Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  13. ^ "New findings from the WHO Multicountry Survey on Maternal and Newborn Health". WHO. Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  14. ^ Sedgh, Gilda; et al (2007-10-13). "Induced Abortion: Estimated Rates and Trends Worldwide". The Lancet 370 (9595): 1338–45.  
  15. ^ Mosher, Steven (October 12, 2007). "Worldwide Illegal Abortion Study Relies on Bogus and Biased Statistics". Retrieved October 31, 2007. 
  16. ^ Lyons, Stephanie (October 19, 2007). "Study shows abortions just as likely to happen in countries where it is illegal". The Daily Vidette Online. Retrieved October 31, 2007. 
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Chaudhuri, S.K. Practice Of Fertility Control: A Comprehensive Manual, 7th Edition, page 259 (Elsevier India, 2007).
  19. ^ The World Health Report 2005: Make Every Mother and Child Count, page 50 (World Health Organization 2005): "A major contribution of contraception to reducing maternal death and disability is through its potential to decrease unsafe abortions."
  20. ^ Faúndes, Aníbal and Barzelatto, José. The Human Drama of Abortion: a Global Search for Consensus, page 21 (Vanderbilt University Press 2006).
  21. ^ Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems, page 15 (World Health Organization 2003).
  22. ^ “Abortion Distortions: Senators from both sides make false claims about Roe v. Wade”, (2005-08-22): "Sen. Boxer claimed that overturning Roe v. Wade would cost the lives of more than 5,000 pregnant women a year. That might have been true before the invention of penicillin and the birth control pill, but it's not true now. The best evidence indicates that the annual deaths from illegal abortions would number in the hundreds, not thousands."
  23. ^ WHO pre-print copy of Grimes, David A; Benson, Janie; Singh, Susheela; Romero, Mariana; Ganatra, Bela; Okonofua, Friday E; Shah, Iqbal H (October 2006). "Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic" (PDF). The Lancet Sexual and Reproductive Health Series. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Cardenas, Edward; George Hunter (2005-01-05). "Boy Faces Felony in Baseball Bat Abortion". Detroit News. 
  25. ^ White, Pamela (January 13–21, 2005). "Baseball Bat Abortion". Boulder Weekly. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  26. ^ "Michigan: Restrictions on Young Women's Access to Abortion". NARAL Pro-Choice America. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  27. ^ "Pacifica Radio". 2003-01-22. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  28. ^ Platner, Jon (2006-09-15). "Remembering Becky Bell". Planned Parenthood Golden Gate. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  29. ^ Investigation of the Women's Medical Society Grand Jury Report
  30. ^ Soubiran, Andre (1969). Diary of a Woman in White (English ed.). Avon Books. pp. 98–99.  citing  
  31. ^ Avery (pseudonym), Martin (1939). "My Family Speaks". Confessions of an Abortionist: Intimate Sidelights on the Secret Human, Sorrow, Drama and Tragedy in the Experience of a Doctor Whose Profession it is to Perform Illegal Operations (First ed.). Haldeman-Julius Company. . Accessed 2012-12-14.
  32. ^ Andrew Walker (2008-04-07). "Saving Nigerians from risky abortions". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  33. ^ Rastegari E.C., Uretsky S. Encyclopedia of Surgery: Uterine stimulants. Accessed 2012-12-14.
  34. ^ a b Grimes DA, Benson J, Singh S, et al. (November 2006). "Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic". Lancet 368 (9550): 1908–19.  
  35. ^ Berer M (November 2004). "National laws and unsafe abortion: the parameters of change". Reprod Health Matters 12 (24 Suppl): 1–8.  
  36. ^ a b Berer M (2000). "Making abortions safe: a matter of good public health policy and practice". Bull. World Health Organ. 78 (5): 580–92.  
  37. ^ Jewkes R, Rees H, Dickson K, Brown H, Levin J (March 2005). "The impact of age on the epidemiology of incomplete abortions in South Africa after legislative change". BJOG 112 (3): 355–9.  
  38. ^ Bateman C (December 2007). "Maternal mortalities 90% down as legal TOPs more than triple". S. Afr. Med. J. 97 (12): 1238–42.  
  39. ^ Butler, J. Douglas (8 December 2011). Abortion, Medicine, and the Law. Fideli Publishing Inc. p. 64.  

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