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Report Shows Fewer Abortions Worldwide

The number of women seeking abortions worldwide has declined dramatically in the past decade, even as laws against abortion were liberalized in many countries, according to a recent report from the Guttmacher Institute. At the same time, unintended pregnancy rates didn't go up. These statistics are attributed to greater access to contraceptives, but the picture isn't the same for women in every country.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Even as laws against abortion have been loosened in many countries, the number of women seeking abortions worldwide has dropped dramatically in the past decade. That's according to a not-for-profit reproductive rights organization, the Alan Guttmacher Institute. But the picture for why this is happening is not the same for women in every country.

NPR's Brenda Wilson reports.

BRENDA WILSON: The biggest change that accounts for the decline in the global abortion rate can be found in Eastern Europe. Opening up to the West meant increasing availability to modern contraceptives that hadn't always been available to women there.

Ms. SUE COHEN (Director, Government Affairs, Alan Guttmacher Institute): This is a part of the world where abortion has been legal for decades. And, in fact, abortion was the method for fertility control in many of these countries.

WILSON: Sue Cohen of the Alan Guttmacher Institute says, a decade ago, these countries had some of the highest abortion rates in the world.

Ms. COHEN: Some were on the order of a woman might have an average of 10 abortions in her lifetime, between the ages of 15 and 45. Now, those women have access to ways to prevent those unintended pregnancies, so they don't need to resort to abortions so frequently.

WILSON: The abortion rate in Eastern Europe fell by 51 percent among women of childbearing age. In a country like Bulgaria, it went from 51 to 22 out of a thousand women.

Abortions declined everywhere, but the least declines occurred where abortion was still illegal, and consequently not safe. In many countries - mainly in Africa and Latin America - where the mortality rate from abortions remained unchanged, 70,000 women still die each year from abortions.

Ms. COHEN: In addition to the women who die, there are many millions of women who suffer severe complications. And so this can have very long-term health consequences for them. One of the most serious for these women is to experience secondary infertility, which is devastating for these women, especially in poor countries where this is just so much a part of who they are.

WILSON: In the last decade, countries like Ethiopia, Nepal, Colombia and 16 others ease the criteria under which abortions are permitted.

Colin Mason, the director of Media for the Population Research Institute, doesn't quite trust the Guttmacher institute's findings because of its affiliation with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which supports the right to abortions.

He says, for example, Guttmacher's estimates put illegal abortions in Colombia at 250,000, even though the country's minister of health says very few women -just 50 - sought access to abortion in the month after it became legal.

Mr. COLIN MASON (Director, Media for the Population Research Institute): If there is such an unmet need, and they are in a country like Colombia spreading the word about abortion, you'd think we would see more than 50 if there were 250,000 illegal abortions every year.

WILSON: Just the disparity between those numbers, he says, should be a reason to look at the report with a healthy amount of skepticism.

The Guttmacher report identifies numerous sources that served as a basis for the estimates, including surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and independent surveys conducted by the countries themselves.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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