Higher rates of abortion and unsafe abortion in the developing world: How should the pro-life movement respond?

Today’s news that abortion rates are higher and abortions themselves exponentially more unsafe in countries where the procedure is illegal should provoke reflection in the pro-life movement. First, the numbers, according to today’s World Health Organization study, as reported by the BBC.

The abortion rate held steady at 28 per 1,000 women compared to 1995; in North America, the number was 19 per 1,000, with a rate of 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe. The highest rate was 43 per 1,000, in Eastern Europe.

The rates of “unsafe” abortions–those carried out without trained medical personel–was quite high in Africa (97 percent) and Latin America (95 percent), lower in Asia (40 percent), Oceania (14 percent), and Europe (9 percent), with safety being directly correllated to the legality of abortion. (It’s safer when legal.).

Around 47,000 women died due to complications from unsafe abortions in 2008, with more than 8 million experiencing serious complications, according to a Time magazine blog. The 2008 numbers suggested that 86 percent of abortions occurred in the developing world, where abortion is either illegal, unsafe, or both. In the developed world, on the other hand, the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion dropped to 26 percent from 36 percent between 1995 and 2008.

One difference between the developed and developing worlds seems to be access to modern methods of contraception (methods controlled by women): “Wherever we have made better contraception available in the countries where we work, hundreds of women will walk hours to get it,” said Dana Hovig, CEO of Marie Stopes International, a family planning organization.”

The pro-life movement in the United States, and the U.S. bishops, have largely focused on changing laws governing abortion, as Scott Alessi reported in our January issue. But key to reducing abortions must also be preventing unintended pregnancies, especially giving women the power to decide when to conceive (and when not to). If being pro-life means being pro-women and pro-children already born in addition to being pro-unborn life, then perhaps it is time to focus equally on giving women power to decide when to get pregnant in the first place. Catholic teaching may be opposed to most forms of modern contraception, but in this case, perhaps it is better to choose the lesser of two evils–or at least this evidence seems to point in that direction.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.