Abortion is Healthcare. That’s the theme of this year’s International Safe Abortion Day. With up to 31,000 people dying each year from unsafe abortions, this message couldn’t be more urgent.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that each year there are 56 million induced abortions globally, and that 88% of them (49 million) occur in the developing world. That’s mostly due to the higher population of women of reproductive age (15–44) living there—1.4 billion in the developing world vs. 236 million in the developed world. But the rate of abortion incidence is higher too: 36 per 1,000 women in the developing world vs. 27 per 1,000 in the developed world.
In the United States, the abortion rate in 2017 was the lowest it’s been since Roe v. Wade: 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15–44. Nearly one in five pregnancies ends in abortion, and one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime. While most abortions in the U.S. are safe, in 2017, “18% of nonhospital facilities reported that they had seen one or more patients for a missed or failed abortion due to self-induction, up from 12% in 2014.” Clinic closures and TRAP laws are surely to blame for people taking their reproductive health care into their own hands.
Of the 56 million abortions that occur each year, 25 million are unsafe. That is, they are “terminated either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.” The major life-threatening complications of unsafe abortion, according to WHO, are hemorrhage, infection, and injury to the genital tract and internal organs. Each year, in the developing world, up to 31,000 women die, and 7 million are admitted to hospitals for complications from unsafe abortions. This is shameful and completely unacceptable in an era when we have safe and simple methods for ending first trimester pregnancies, and safe—although not as simple—methods for ending second and third trimester pregnancies.
The Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) took up oversight of the day of action in 2011 and brought it to a global audience. A year later, the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, headquartered in Lima, Peru, joined WGNRR in overseeing the official day. Before that, beginning in 1990, it had been commemorated by activist groups in Latin America as the Campaña 28 Septiembre. Those groups chose September 28 because that’s the day Brazil’s Law of the “Free Womb” was passed, in 1871. The law emancipated children born to mothers who were enslaved (but only those children who were born after the law’s passage).
Call to Action
It is atrocious that people are still dying from a procedure that—with the right training, equipment, medications, and federal laws—is incredibly safe. That has to change. And it can change if we commit to these four actions:
- Medical schools—including those in the United States—must commit to training students in abortion provision.
- Development aid must fund medications and equipment that providers can use to perform safe abortions.
- The United States must end restrictions on aid being used for safe abortion.
- Lawmakers must stop trying to control women’s bodies with policies that, quite simply, kill them.
- “Induced Abortion Worldwide,” Guttmacher Institute
- “2019 World Population Prospects,” United Nations Population Division
- “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2017,” Guttmacher Institute
- “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers,” Guttmacher Institute
- “Preventing unsafe abortion,” World Health Organization (WHO)