* Stalling abortion rate reflects contraception trends
* Almost half of all abortions are unsafe, study finds
* Experts call for more investment in family planning
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Jan 19 (Reuters) - A long-term decline in the
rates of abortion worldwide has stalled and the proportion of
terminations that are unsafe and put women's lives at risk is
rising, an international group of scientists said on Thursday.
Researchers from the World Health (WHO) and the Guttmacher
Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health, said
a trend of falling numbers of abortions between 1995 and 2003
had levelled out since then, suggesting that increased access to
contraception worldwide has also stalled.
"We are also seeing a growing proportion of abortions
occurring in developing countries where the procedure is often
clandestine and unsafe," said Gilda Sedgh, lead author of the
study and a senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute.
Between 1995 and 2003, the abortion rate per 1,000 women of
childbearing age (15 to 44 years) worldwide dropped from 35 to
29. This new study found that in 2008 the global abortion rate
was 28 per 1,000, virtually unchanged from 2003's level.
"This plateau coincides with a slowdown in contraceptive
uptake," Sedgh told a briefing in London about the findings.
"And without greater investment in quality family planning
services, we can expect this trend to persist."
Alarmingly, Sedgh said, the proportion of abortions
characterised as unsafe rose from 44 percent in 1995 to 49
percent in 2008.
The researchers, whose study was published in the Lancet
medical journal, define unsafe abortion as a procedure for
terminating a pregnancy carried out by someone who does not have
the necessary skills, or in an environment that does not meet
minimal medical standards, or both.
Despite the decline in the abortion rate, there were 2.2
million more abortions in 2008, when 43.8 million were carried
out, than in 2003 when there were 41.6 million. This is due to
the increasing global population, the researchers said.
From 2003 to 2008, the number of abortions fell by 0·6
million in the developed world, but increased by 2·8 million in
Of all the world's regions, Latin America has the highest
rate, with 32 per 1,000 women in 2008. Africa and Asia follow
close behind with rates of 29 and 28 per 1,000 women
respectively. Rates for North America and Oceania were the
lowest, at 19 and 17.
Sedgh said that while in Europe, around 30 percent of
pregnancies end in abortion there was a far higher rate in
Eastern Europe than in the rest of the region.
In Western Europe there were 12 abortions per 1,000 women in
2008, while in Eastern Europe at the same time there were 43.
Sedgh said the study's findings showed strong correlations
between abortion rates and access to effective contraceptives,
and between abortion rates and the law.
"The abortion rates is clearly lower in places were abortion
laws are more liberal," she said, pointing to Africa and Latin
America where rates are high.
There is also a strong link between restrictive laws and
higher rates of unsafe abortions. Between 95 percent and 97
percent of all abortions in Africa and Latin America are unsafe,
the study found.
Sedgh said family planning services around the world
appeared to be failing to keep up with rising demand for
effective contraception driven by the desire for small families
and better control over the timing of births.
"There are still 215 million women in developing countries
who have an unmet need for contraceptives," she said
(Editing by xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)
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