MYTH: “If abortion becomes illegal, it will end.”

September 28, Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion

#BustTheMyths

Fight #AbortionStigma & Discrimination!

Download the Fact sheet HERE! Fact sheet: Criminalization (622)

Infographic-6

MYTH: If abortion becomes illegal, it will end.

Legal restrictions do not stop abortion; mainly, they drive it underground.”Susan Cohen, Vice President for Public Policy, Guttmacher Institute[1]

Numbers of evidence-based studies have shown that criminalizing and/or restricting access to abortion does not reduce the number of abortions—rather, it forces individuals to seek out clandestine and unsafe abortions worldwide, jeopardizing their health and their lives.[2] [3]

Abortion rates are also actually higher in regions where abortion is illegal under most circumstances, and lower in regions where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds. [4] [5] For example, the regions of Africa and Latin America, where abortion is generally illegal in most situations, experience high abortion rates, at 29 and 32 abortions respectively per 1,000 women of childbearing age. In contrast, in Western Europe, where abortion is generally legal, the abortion rate is significantly lower, at 12 per 1,000.[6]

Approximately seven million women were treated for complications from unsafe pregnancy termination in 2012 alone.[7] As recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), “it is likely that the numbers of unsafe abortions will continue to increase unless women’s access to safe abortion and contraception […] are put in place and further strengthened.”[8]

The recognition of the gravity of unsafe abortion is not new – as early as 1967, the World Health Assembly identified unsafe abortion as a serious public health problem in many countries, and the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action similarly recognizes that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity, with harmful effects on women and their families. [9]

While the impact of unsafe abortion is widely recognized, however, what often gets less attention is the tremendous positive effect that access to safe abortion services has had in various countries worldwide, especially when such services are made widely accessible and in conjunction with access to a range of contraceptives. When decriminalized and made widely available, access to safe and legal abortion services has resulted in improved health conditions among women and girls;[10] plummeting maternal mortality and morbidity rates; and increased women’s empowerment, through greater decision-making power, as well as facilitating their equal participation in public life, as shown in various countries from around the world:

  • When abortion was made legal in Romania in 1989, the rate of abortion-related mortality significantly dropped from 148 per 100,000 live births in 1989 to 58 in 1990 and 34 in 1993.[11]
  • In the United States, following the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade, which held that state laws restricting a woman’s right to legal abortion were unconstitutional, the number of deaths per 100,000 legal abortion procedures declined from 4.1 to 0.6% between 1973 and 1997.[12] The U.S. Supreme Court has also observed that “[t]he ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”[13]
  • In South Africa, when the 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (CTOP) was implemented, abortion related maternal deaths declined by 91 percent.[14]
  • In 2002, Nepal revised its abortion law from a total ban on abortion to permitting abortion without restriction as to reason during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy and thereafter under certain circumstances. This revision is considered to have significantly contributed to reducing maternal deaths from unsafe abortion.[15]
  • Uruguay now has the lowest maternal mortality rate in Latin America and the third lowest in the Americas, following the implementation of a healthcare model which ensures women’s and adolescents’ access to safe abortion information, services, and counseling in 2001; the decriminalization of abortion in 2012; and the enactment of legislation in 2008 and 2009 that requires healthcare providers to provide comprehensive SRH services, and institutionalizing comprehensive sexuality education in the school system.[16]

The evidence is clear: widespread access to safe and legal abortion is an integral component of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and is a social good.

This September 28join us and #BusttheMyths surrounding abortion, emphasizing the positive realities derived from access to safe and legal abortion in countries worldwide!


 

[1] Cohen, Susan A. Worldwide Abortion: Legality, Incidence and Safety. Guttmacher Institute.

[2] Guttmacher Institute, Worldwide Abortion: Legality, Incidence and Safety: Quick Stats.

[3] Cohen, Susan A. (2009), Facts and Consequences: Legality, Incidence and Safety of Abortion Worldwide. Guttmacher Policy Review 12(4).

[4] Guttmacher Institute, Worldwide Abortion: Legality, Incidence and Safety: Quick Stats.

[5] Sedgh, Gilda et al (2012), Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008. The Lancet 379 (9816): 625-632.

[6] Guttmacher Institute, Worldwide Abortion: Legality, Incidence and Safety: Quick Stats.

[7] Singh S., and I Maddow-Zimet (2015), Facility-Based Treatment for Medical Complications Resulting from Unsafe Pregnancy Termination in the Developing World, 2012: A Review of Evidence from 26 Countries, BJOG. This data reflects only those women who were able to seek facility-based treatment.

[8] World Health Organization (2011), Unsafe Abortion: Global and Regional Estimates of the Incidence of Unsafe Abortion and Associated Mortality in 2008.

[9] ICPD Programme of Action (1994), A/CONF.171/13, para. 8.19.

[10] Guttmacher Institute (2012), Making Abortion Services Accessible in the Wake of Legal Reforms.

[11] Reproductive Health Matters (2004), Johnson BR, Horga M, Fajans P: A strategic assessment of abortion and contraception in Romania.

[12] NARAL Pro-Choice America (2015), Roe v. Wade and the Right to Choose.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ipas (2010), The Evidence Speaks for Itself: Ten Facts About Abortion.

[15] Center for Reproductive Rights and UNFPA (2013), ICPD and Human Rights: 20 Years of Advancing Reproductive Rights Through UN Treaty Bodies and Legal Reform.

[16] Report of the Secretary-General (2014), Framework of Actions for the Follow-Up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014.