Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: levels and trends

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Gilda Sedgh et al. Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: global, regional, and subregional levels and trends, by The Lancet.

Abortion rates declined significantly across most developed regions between 1990 and 2014, but remained largely unchanged in developing regions. In that period, the overall number of abortions dropped from 46 to 27 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years in developed countries but in developing countries, it fell from 39 to 37 per 1,000 women, a non-significant change.

The study also found that the total number of abortions per year increased as a result of population growth. The annual number of abortions globally grew from 50.4 million in 1990-94 to 56.3 million in 2010-14. The estimated global abortion rate in 2010–2014 was 35 per 1,000 women. By marital status, it was 36 per 1,000 for married women and 25 per 1,000 for unmarried women. Some 73% of all abortions, or 41 million, were obtained by married women.

The authors also estimated that in 2010–2014, a quarter of all pregnancies worldwide ended in abortion. The percentage fell in developed regions from 39% in 1990-94 to 28% in 2010-14 while in developing countries it rose from 21% to 24%. However, the proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion increased in Latin America and the Caribbean (from 23% to 32%), South and Central Asia (from 17% to 25%), and Southern Africa (from 17% to 24%).

Lead author Gilda Sedgh said: “These trends suggest that women and couples in the developed world have become more successful at avoiding unintended pregnancies… over the last two decades. High abortion rates are directly correlated to high levels of unmet contraceptive need.”

In 2010-14, the abortion rate was 37 per 1,000 where abortion is restricted or prohibited altogether. In countries where it was available on request, the abortion rate was 34 per 1,000.

The researchers also noted that their findings provide further evidence that even if all women and couples who wish to avoid pregnancy had universal access to contraception, unintended pregnancies and abortions would still occur, making access to safe abortion essential.

The researchers report that the updated methodology used for this analysis resulted in more accurate projections by bringing more evidence to bear on the estimates than did previous studies.

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