FROM a purely legal standpoint there has been a global trend toward liberalization of abortion laws since the 1970s, a new study on abortion shows. The study was released over the weekend. However, the Worldwatch Institute report on the Global Politics of Abortion also concludes that because of cultural, religious, or social barriers, legal abortion does not necessarily increase women's access to abortion.
Jodi Jacobson, a senior researcher at the environmental organization and author of the report, calls it the first public call for abortion to be considered a part of family planning.
Even pro-choice and feminist groups have been slow to acknowledge this, she says.
In light of the fact that the United Nations recognizes family planning - determining the number and spacing of children - as a human right, Ms. Jacobson says that if women have no access to abortion they cannot exercise that right.
It is United States policy not to fund domestic or foreign family-planning programs that promote abortion.
However, Jacobson concludes, since there is an international consensus that population growth rates need to be lowered, abortion cannot be discounted as the most effective way to stop births when contraceptives don't, either because contraceptives fail, or because access to them is restricted).
The report also discusses the high social and health costs of illegal abortions, which it says account for nearly half of the world's 50 million abortions performed annually.