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Decline in Abortion Linked to Increased Contraceptive Use

According to a report released in October by the Guttmacher Institute, an increase in the use of contraceptives has contributed to a decline in the number of abortions worldwide, but 70,000 women still die every year from unsafe abortions.

The report, "Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress," found that the number of abortions worldwide fell from 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003. The estimated number of unsafe abortions declined only slightly, from 19.9 million in 1995 to 19.7 million in 2003, with most of the world's unsafe abortions taking place in developing countries.

The report concluded that the incidence of abortion is closely related to the rate of unintended pregnancy and is not correlated to the legality of abortion in any country.

Conservatives in the U.S. charged that this latter finding was at odds with earlier Guttmacher research showing that the Hyde amendment – which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions – deters some U.S. women from obtaining an abortion. The Guttmacher Institute rejected that criticism noting that "if the Hyde amendment were repealed, the annual number of abortions nationwide would increase by approximately 33,000 increasing the U.S. abortion rate by only 2.5 percent."

The Guttmacher report concluded, however, that restrictive abortion laws do increase the number of unsafe abortions that are performed. According to the report, more than half of the deaths from unsafe abortions took place in sub-Saharan Africa where only 28% of married women use contraceptives and one in four married women have an unmet need for contraceptives.

According to Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, "Addressing the unmet need for contraception, which remains very high in many parts of the world, is critical in promoting the well-being of women and their families. This is especially true in those parts of the developing world where modern contraceptive use is still low and mortality related to clandestine and unsafe abortion is high."

The report noted that one woman dies every eight minutes from an unsafe abortion, and millions more are maimed. The report recommended expanding access to modern contraceptives and improving family planning services to reduce the incidence of abortion. To reduce deaths from unsafe abortions, the report recommended expanded access to legal abortion and improved coverage and quality of post-abortion care.