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Unsafe Abortions Kill 70,000 Women Yearly Worldwide
More than half the deaths, about 38,000, are in sub-Saharan Africa, which was singled out as the region with by far the lowest rates of contraceptive use and the highest rates of unintended pregnancies.
The report, three years in the making, was compiled by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights and is a leading source of data on abortion-related trends. Researchers examined data from individual countries and multinational organizations.
The institute's president, Sharon Camp, said she was heartened by the overall trends since Guttmacher conducted a similar survey in 1999, yet expressed concern about the gap revealed in the new report.
Guttmacher estimated previously that the number of abortions worldwide fell from 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003 -- the latest year for which global figures were available.
A key reason for that drop, the new report said, was that the portion of married women using contraception increased from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003 as availability increased and social mores changed. Guttmacher's researchers said contraceptive use had increased in every major region, but still lagged badly in Africa -- used by only 28 percent of married women there, compared with at least 68 percent in other major regions.
The report notes that abortions worldwide are declining even as more countries liberalize their abortion laws. Since 1997, it said, only three countries -- Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador -- substantially increased restrictions on abortion, while laws were eased significantly in 19 countries and regions, including Cambodia, Nepal and Mexico City.
Despite this trend, the report said 40 percent of the world's women live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, virtually all of them in the developing world. This category includes 92 percent of the women in Africa and 97 percent in Latin America, it said.
In one example, the report told of a Nigerian woman named Victoria who first tried to induce an abortion by drinking an herbal concoction, then consulted a traditional healer who inserted leaves in her vagina that caused internal injuries.
The report estimated that 19.7 million of the 41.6 million abortions in 2003 were unsafe -- either self-induced, performed by unskilled practitioners or carried out in unhygienic surroundings.
The survey concluded that abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in countries where it is legal and where it is highly restricted. The key difference, according to the report, is the high rate of deaths and medical complications from unsafe clandestine abortions in the restrictive countries.
The report makes three major recommendations:
--Expand access to modern contraceptives and improve family planning services.
--Expand access to legal abortion and ensure that safe, legal abortion services are available to women in need.
--Improve the coverage and quality of post-abortion care, which would reduce maternal death and complications from unsafe abortion.
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