Harsh laws and the seemingly irreversible stigma surrounding abortions has deterred advocates and women across the world for many years, but there is no better time to be fighting for safe, legal abortions than now.
A study published Sept. 27 by British health journal The Lancet found that a staggering 25.5 million abortions between 2010 and 2014 around the world were practiced in an unsafe manner. The study was conducted by international researchers at the World Health Organization and Guttmacher Institute. It involved more than 150 pieces of data collected from previous surveys, bibliographic databases and ministries of health or national statistical organizations on both unsafe and safe abortions across 61 countries.
When that distressing number is broken down into percentages, researchers found that 31 percent of abortions were categorized as “less safe,” meaning that the abortion was done by a trained provider, but they may have used an outdated method or the abortion may have been performed with a currently advised method but without a professional present. Fourteen percent were deemed “least safe,” which means that the operation was performed by someone who was untrained and used unsafe methods and tools like sharp curettage.
Most often with unwanted pregnancies, it is women and young girls worldwide who end up having an unsafe abortions, according to WHO. Unwanted pregnancies can be the product of rape, incest or abuse. Women may also need one because they will die if they don’t terminate the pregnancy. Whatever reason, getting an abortion should never be unsafe. Women should never be second choice to an unborn fetus.
Common barriers include restrictive laws, poor access to services, high cost and stigma, according to WHO. Unsafe abortions can cause an array of medical complications that can be fatal: infection, damage to the genitals, hemorrhaging, and an incomplete abortion when some pregnancy tissue is still left in the uterus after the operation.
The study found 11,000 North American women had an unsafe abortion over the four years considered. The number seems too high considering abortion clinics are still semi-accessible. The thought of any number of women within this country desperately needing the operation but unable to access it safely is horrific.
However, this is a small number compared to the 6.2 million women in Africa and the 14 million women in Asia who had an unsafe abortion during this period.
This study is proof that unsafe abortions are still a global health crisis and need to be treated as such—especially by developed countries. According to the study, almost all abortions in developed countries were safe. Women in developing countries were not as fortunate. This could be due to multiple obstacles like the illegality of abortion in some places and lack of access to public health care.
It’s no secret the U.S. is experiencing its own problems with abortion access. Health care is becoming a major debate and President Donald Trump signed an anti-abortion bill—which allows states to withhold federal funding from organizations that provide abortions—four months into his first term.
Despite this, we cannot forget the women across the world who are living in even more oppressive countries. They must be spotlighted in this debate, along with this study. If they do choose to have an abortion, it should be performed in a safe, clean facility and be a fundamental right.