Abortions happen most frequently (and most unsafely) in countries where it’s illegal

Via USA Today (via the Associated Press), The Lancet just published a study finding very high correlation between abortions and laws restricting same. Seems the more Draconian your anti-woman laws are, the higher the abortion rates, and the more likely that the abortions will be unsafe.

About 47,000 women died from unsafe abortions in 2008, and another 8.5 million women had serious medical complications. Almost all unsafe abortions were in developing countries, where family planning and contraceptive programs have mostly levelled off.

Abortion rates were lowest in Western Europe — 12 per 1,000 — and highest in Eastern Europe — 43 per 1,000. The rate in North America was 19 per 1,000. Sedgh said she and colleagues found a link between higher abortion rates and regions with more restrictive legislation, such as in Latin America and Africa. They also found that 95 to 97 percent of abortions in those regions were unsafe.

The authors defined unsafe abortion as any procedure done by people lacking needed skills or in places that don’t meet minimal medical standards. Sedgh said some women in Africa resort to using broken soda bottles or taking strong doses of medicines or herbal drugs to induce abortions.

A broken soda bottle? Really? That’s actually worse than that Pennsylvania girl who home-aborted with a pencil when left with no other recourse. I never thought I’d hear a horror story worse than that one, but there you have it.

The idea that women will abort their pregnancies with or without legality is not surprising. The correlating idea that the countries with the more restrictive abortion laws are very probably the same ones that do not educate about sexuality, and/or do not make readily available contraceptices, was not studied unfortunately. I would not be surprised in the least, personally, if anti-abortion sentiment correlated very highly with anti-sex-ed and anti-contraception.

Remember, sex ed, abortion and contraception are women’s rights issues. Removing any or all of those three is equivalent to damning women to indentured servitude as baby-makers.

Abortions happen most frequently (and most unsafely) in countries where it’s illegal

11 thoughts on “Abortions happen most frequently (and most unsafely) in countries where it’s illegal

  1. 1

    “The idea that women will abort their pregnancies with or without legality is not surprising.”

    Umm, actually, it is. When you impose a penalty for doing something, people tend to do it less. The more likely explanation for the data is that countries with more restrictive abortion laws tend to also have worse education about contraception, less access to contraception, and harsher stigmas (both legal and social) for having children out of wedlock, leading to more abortions.

  2. 2

    I think Nathan is on the right track – more religion equals less sexual education which in turn raises the abortion rate.

    However, I don’t think it’s correct to say that just because there is a penalty for doing something people will do it less. Prohibition didn’t reduce alcohol consumption, ‘the war on drugs’ has not reduced drug use, penalties for pirating electronic media has not reduced on-line piracy. Quite the opposite in fact.

  3. 3

    You want to stop something, you pass a law to ban it, and you end up with the opposite reaction.

    Sounds like we need one of those laws of human nature here, doesn’t it?

  4. 4

    I’ve had three back up plans for how to get an abortion if I’m pregnant and abortion became illegal since I was 14. Note that I did not say “unintentionally pregnant” because I would not, under any circumstances, become pregnant in a country without legal abortion if I could in any way prevent myself from doing so. If abortion became illegal while I was intentionally pregnant, I would get an abortion by whatever means were necessary as soon as possible*. It simply wouldn’t be worth the risk that I’d need an abortion later, when it was more complicated and harder to hide, due to complications of a wanted pregnancy. Besides which, who would risk having a daughter in a country where women can be legally enslaved?

    *Or get the hell out of the country, if that option were available.

  5. 6

    Of course, the examples of prohibition, drug laws, prostitution, etc only prove that laws prohibiting something don’t completely eliminate the behavior in question. Does anyone know of any data on whether any of the above or similar examples as to whether alcohol use was reduced during prohibition, etc?

    From what I’ve read, Romania succeeded in reducing the rate of abortion at least transiently and mildly, but at the cost of a huge increase in pregnancy related mortality, abandoned children, and poorer educational and work achievement for children born in the relevant era. I believe that the average “pro-life” advocate would consider a policy that “saved” one fetus or embryo, at the cost of the lives of many women and the life success of a generation or two, a successful policy. They’re not real big on protecting the already born.

  6. 7

    The stats are interesting, but don’t constitute an argument for the legalization of abortion.

    Abortion should be legal and easily accessible because it is one of the ways women can control their own reproduction. Education and access to reliable birth control and safe abortion constitute the most effective anti-poverty measures the world has seen; they are sure-fire avenues to human well-being. We should celebrate them where they exist and fight hard for them where they’re denied.

  7. 8

    Nathan, you’re going to need a citation for this sweeping assertion.

    When you impose a penalty for doing something, people tend to do it less.

    It does not follow that penalties are effective deterrents when attempting to force conformity to social norms.

    Most evidence has shown that things like vice taxes on cigarettes and other items lead to an initial dropoff in purchases, but they tend to recover and go back to initial rates.

    Prostitution has been illegal in most of the United States for ages, but there are still and have always been sex workers.

    Sodomy laws that criminalized any activity but PIV sex between married couples did not prevent gay couples from hiding their love from the law.

    And abortion didn’t start in 1973 with the SCOTUS decision on Roe v. Wade. Abortion has been with us for a very long time, and has not always been illegal. But historically when it was illegal, women still sought to end pregnancies even when the procedure was dangerous, expensive and punishable by law.

    Education is a factor in unintended pregnancy, and thus affects abortion rates. That’s why it’s all the more disturbing that we see pushes in the United States to push for more abstinence only education and overruling of the FDA’s official decision on Plan B by Health and Human Services head Sebelius.

  8. 9

    Important question though: are these rates the # abortions per woman or per pregnancy? That would be a pretty big difference, I would think, and it is the latter figure that would need to be compared. Fertility rates (how often women become pregnant) are quite different between developed vs. non-developed countries, and even within a country based on ethnicity. So, if you want to say that the rate of abortions is higher in a developing country, that rate should be divided by # of pregnancies. Anyone know what the study used?

  9. 10

    Remember, sex ed, abortion and contraception are women’s rights issues

    No, they are not women’s right issues. They are human rights issues.

    Surely the two statements are not mutually exclusive.

  10. 11

    Umm, actually, it is. When you impose a penalty for doing something, people tend to do it less.

    not actually true. this is merely “common wisdom”, and it applies usually only to trivial things for which a mild but persistent deterrent is all that’s needed to reduce incidence (and at that point, harsher deterrents don’t seem to reduce it any further, either). Sometimes also, social stigmatization can lead to reduction in particular cultural “vices”, but bans alone rarely qualify as sufficient stigmatization.

    OTOH, banning religions simply makes believers go underground; banning drinking and other drugs simply shifts use underground; banning homosexuality simply shifts homosexual sex and relationships underground, etc.
    And the ability to control one’s own fertility is one of those things that simply goes underground when banned. Which most people who have had to realistically imagine what it would be like to be pregnant at a bad time already knew.

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