Legalizing Abortions Does Not Increase Abortion Rates, It Just Makes Them Safer

Demonstrators rally in support of women’s rights, and against President Trump’s administration, on International Women’s Day 2017, in Washington DC.  Rena Schild/Shutterstock

Making abortions illegal does not decrease the rate of abortion, it only makes them more dangerous.

These findings come from a new report by the Guttmacher Institute that has gathered the latest data on abortion rates worldwide, as well as the latest information on the laws that regulate abortion and its safety.

“Abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is highly restricted and where it is broadly legal,” according to the Institute.

“The abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 women in countries that prohibit abortion altogether or allow it only to save a woman’s life, and 34 per 1,000 in countries that allow abortion without restriction as to reason – a difference that is not significant.”

Out of the world’s 1.64 billion women of reproductive age, 6 percent live where abortion is totally illegal, and 37 percent live where it is allowed without restriction as to the reason.

Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest annual rate of abortion of any world region, with 44 per 1,000 women of reproductive age. Over 97 percent of women living in these countries live under restrictive abortion laws. The lowest rates were found in Northern Europe and North American, approximately 17 per 1,000 women, where abortions are broadly legal and restrictions are among the least stringent in the world.

While these statistics reflect a whole range of socioeconomic and cultural factors, from levels of healthcare to social stigma, it shows that the effect of the legal restrictions on the rates appears to be minimal.

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“Legal restrictions do not eliminate abortion,” the study authors write.

“Rather they increase the likelihood that abortions will be done unsafely, as they compel women to seek clandestine procedures. Indeed, abortion tends to be safer in countries where it is broadly legal and in countries with a high national income.”

A sentiment backed up by a recent study – the most comprehensive and rigorous analysis of all available data regarding medical outcomes of terminations yet – published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the US. 

The report also found a huge disparity between rich and poor nations. Of the 56 million induced abortions that took place each year between 2010 and 2014, an estimated 45 percent were unsafe. Around 97 percent of these unsafe abortions occur in developing regions, most of which have highly restrictive abortion laws.

“Improvements to abortion laws, service provision guidelines and practices in a number of countries have made abortion safer worldwide; however, millions of women living in countries where abortion is highly restricted continue to experience the negative consequences of unsafe abortion,” Sneha Barot, Senior Policy Manager at the Guttmacher Institute, said in a statement.

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