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Incidence Of Abortion

Although the exact number may never be known, it is estimated that between 20 million and 50 million abortions are performed each year (World Health Organization 1994). The proportion of women having abortions and the proportion of pregnancies terminated vary widely from country to country. In the past, the highest rates have been observed in the Soviet Union and eastern European countries where abortion is more socially acceptable than in other regions and where contraceptive services have been scarce or unreliable.

According to Singh and Henshaw (1996), about half of all abortions in 1990 occurred in Asia, with almost one-fourth occurring in the former USSR. Approximately 3 percent occurred in Canada and the United States. In Colombia during the 1980s, according to unofficial reports, it appeared that one out of every two pregnancies ended in abortion.

The highest abortion rates recorded have been in Romania in 1965, where, among women in the reproductive age from fifteen to forty-four, one in four had an abortion each year (Henshaw and Morrow 1990). The abortion rate in Romania plummeted in 1966 when Romanian dictator Nicolau Ceaucescu banned abortion in an attempt to increase population growth rates. Police surveillance of women included mandatory pelvic examinations and pregnancy tests. This action resulted in higher birth rates, but it was also accompanied by skyrocketing maternal mortality rates including a dramatic increase in deaths from abortion, which caused approximately 85 percent of all maternal deaths. The Romanian maternal mortality rate went from 86 per 100,000 live births in 1966 to 170 per 100,000 live births in the late 1980s—the highest in Europe.

Approximately 10,000 excess maternal deaths due to abortion occurred during the period from 1966–1989 (Serbanescu et al. 2001). Romanian abortion rates again became the highest in the world after Ceaucescu was overthrown in 1989, and abortion mortality rates dropped ( Joffe 1999; Henshaw 1999). Within one year after the fall of the Ceaucescu regime, the maternal mortality rate dropped by 50 per cent. By 1997, there were 21 abortion-related deaths per 100,000 live births (Serbanescu et al. 2001).

In other countries such as Canada and the Netherlands, where abortion is legal and widely available, but where other means of fertility control are easily available, abortion rates are sometimes quite low (Henshaw 1999). In the Ukraine, the abortion rate in women in the reproductive age range of fifteen to forty-four years fell 50 percent from 77 abortions per 1,000 women to 36 per 1,000 in the interval from 1990 to 1998 (Goldberg et al. 2001).

It appears that, when abortion is both legal and widely available but is not the only means of effective fertility control, about one-fourth of all pregnancies will end in abortion. Lack of access to contraception may result in higher abortion rates. The principal effect of laws making abortion illegal appears to be to make abortion more dangerous but not less common.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Social IssuesAbortion - Definition Of Abortion, Reasons For Abortions, When And How Abortions Are Performed, Risks Of Abortion - Social Responses To Abortion