Nearly half of all abortions globally between 2003 and 2008 were deemed "unsafe," the Lancet report says. This is up from 44 percent in 1995.
"Unsafe" means the abortions were not administered by qualified professionals, took place in an unsuitable, unsanitary location, and could end in fatal infections or hemorrhaging for the mother. Nearly all abortions in Africa (97 percent) and Latin America (95 percent) are considered unsafe, says the report.
More than 350,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, and close to 99 percent of the deaths take place in the developing world, according to the UN. Similarly, there is a distinct difference in the frequency of dangerous abortions between developed and developing countries.
There are strong connections between countries with high rates of dangerous abortions and restrictive abortion laws, says Johanna Fine, a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. “When you restrict access to abortion, the rates of maternal mortality are often very high,” she says. “Women who wish to terminate their pregnancy will do so regardless of legality, and illegal abortions are most often unsafe.”
“[World Health Organization] research shows that maternal mortality [is] falling, but the percent of maternal mortality attributable to unsafe abortion has remained the same at 13 percent [in 2008 and 2003],” says Solter in an email.
“It’s the poor ... who have the hardest time when [abortion] is illegal,” Solter adds. “Women who are wealthy enough can always get an abortion, and a relatively safe one.”
Western Europe, which overall has the most permissive laws on abortion, also has the lowest abortion rates in the world, says Ms. Fine. Laws permitting abortion play a significant role in this finding, she says. But it serves as an indicator of the presence of other services such as quality health care, sexual education, and access to contraceptives as well.
Go here to view an interactive map created by the US reproductive research organization, The Guttmacher Institute, comparing rates of abortion by geographic region.