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Unsafe abortions — by unqualified providers or using procedures other than those recommended — are commonplace worldwide, a new report finds, with especially high rates in developing countries.

More than 25 million abortions each year are performed by an untrained provider or use an outdated or dangerous method, according to a new report released Wednesday by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute. The majority of unsafe abortions took place in developing nations.

“There is room everywhere to move forward safer abortions,” said the WHO’s Dr. Bela Ganatra, one of the report’s authors.


Megan Thielking / STAT Source:Global, regional, and subregional classification of abortions by
safety, 2010–14. The Lancet.

The report defined safe abortions as those performed by a trained provider using a recommended method; less-safe abortions as a trained provider but with an outdated method, or a safe method by an untrained provider; least-safe abortions as untrained individuals using dangerous methods.

Here’s a look at the findings:


  • There are 55.7 million abortions every year across the globe. About 55 percent of those were considered safe abortions.
  • Almost all abortions in developed nations — roughly 88 percent — are safe. But just because the bulk of abortions are safe doesn’t mean there isn’t significant room for improvement, Ganatra said. “How were women treated when they accessed these services? What are the barriers to getting those services?” she asked.
  • Just half of abortions in developing nations are considered safe. And in most parts of Africa and Latin America, fewer than 25 percent of abortions are safe.
  • Countries with high proportions of safe abortions are more likely to have less restrictive abortion laws. In the 57 countries where women can choose to have an abortion, 87 percent of abortions were safe. In the 62 countries where abortions are banned or allowed only to save a woman’s life or preserve her physical health, just 25 percent of abortions were safe.
  • There isn’t one strategy for curbing unsafe abortions. Ganatra said interventions should span public policy, medical training, and health care access. But, she added, reducing the rate of unsafe abortions is doable. “Actually making safe abortion accessible is simple: It’s a primary care-level intervention. The technology and science is basic. It’s not resource-intensive,” said Ganatra.