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NPR Examines Relationship Between Abortion Restrictions, Unsafe Procedures

NPR Examines Relationship Between Abortion Restrictions, Unsafe Procedures

September 30, 2014 — Advocates on both sides of the abortion-rights debate agree on the need to reduce unsafe abortions, but the factors that lead to these procedures and the best ways to stop them are points of contention, NPR's "Goats and Soda" reports.

Nearly 50,000 women worldwide die from unsafe abortions annually, while an additional five million are admitted to hospitals because of complications following abortion procedures, according to "Goats and Soda."

Research on Impact of Abortion Laws

Some governments have outlawed abortions to try to stop them, but evidence has found that the strategy does not reduce abortion rates.

For example, a Guttmacher Institute and World Health Organization study published in The Lancet in 2012 found that outlawing abortion is linked to slightly higher abortion rates and that the majority of the clandestine procedures are dangerous for women. Specifically, in 18 regions throughout the world, 44 million pregnancies ended in abortion in 2008. On average, abortion rates were about 10% higher in regions with broad abortion restrictions, compared with those with more liberal laws.

In addition, other research has shown that the number of maternal deaths decreases when countries ease abortion restrictions, likely because of a decline in the number of unsafe procedures.

Meanwhile, reports of abortions in the U.S. increased by almost 70% during the six years following the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which ended pre-viability bans on the procedure nationwide. According to CDC, 750,000 abortions were reported in the country in 1974. By 1980, that number had increased to nearly 1.3 million.

Experts' Explanation

Ana Langer, a reproductive health researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, "Once a procedure becomes illegal, the need is still there." She added, "Women will look for services, safe or unsafe, to terminate their pregnancy."

Legalizing abortion alone is not enough to stop unsafe abortions, said Gilda Sedgh, a researcher at the Guttmacher Institute who was the lead author of the study in The Lancet. It is also important that women are aware of new laws, that the providers are trained to offer safe abortion care and that supplies are in place, she said.

Further, Sedgh and Langer noted that improving access to contraception, in order to reduce unwanted pregnancies, is an effective strategy to reduce the need for abortion.

Meanwhile, Michael New of the antiabortion-rights Charlotte Lozier Institute said the Guttmacher and WHO study's findings are misleading. He said, "Many of the countries where abortion is legally restricted tend to have high poverty rates and a variety of other social pathologies that increase the demand for abortions. This clouds some of the findings and makes them less reliable than one would like" (Doucleff, "Goats and Soda," NPR, 9/28).