The Abortion Worldwide 2017 report shows that abortion rates are in fact slightly higher in countries where it is prohibited or highly restricted than in countries where it is widely available, with a rate of 37 per 1,000 women in the former and 34 in the latter.
“Legal restrictions do not eliminate abortion,” says the report. “Rather, they increase the likelihood that abortions will be done unsafely.”
Worldwide, 45% of the 56m abortions that take place annually are classified as unsafe because of the methods used or the lack of medical supervision. That figure includes the unsupervised use of the abortion drug, misoprostol, which some women in Ireland illegally import to terminate their pregnancies.
The report shows Ireland’s unique position among developed nations, as no other wealthy nation that allows it restricts abortion so tightly.
It shows that 26 of the 199 countries and territories studied prohibit abortion in all circumstances, while 31 allow abortion only where it is necessary to save the life of the woman. Of those 31, only Ireland is a developed country, while the others include countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Guatemala, Yemen, and Myanmar.
A further 73 countries allow abortion in a wider range of circumstances and 63 set no restrictions apart from time limits.
The report was compiled by the US-based Guttmacher Institute and shows that abortion rates have been falling in developed countries over the past 25 years, a trend linked to the greater availability of education and contraception, while rates have remained stable in the developing world.
Susheela Singh, vice-president for international research at the institute, said: “Improved contraceptive use and, in turn, declines in unintended pregnancy rates, are the likely driver behind the worldwide decline in abortion rates.
“Most women who have an abortion do so because they did not intend to become pregnant in the first place. Meeting the need for contraception is critical to bringing down rates even further.”
The report also shows that medication abortion, via the use of misoprostol and mifepristone combined, is on the rise and in some European countries is now more common than surgical abortion.
The Government has said abortion services that would follow a yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment would be primarily medication-based but Gilda Sedgh, co-author of the report, said choice was important.
“From a woman’s perspective, it might be relevant that vacuum aspiration [surgical abortion] takes less time, while medication abortion is less invasive,” she said. “A takeaway from this is that even though medication abortion is becoming more widespread, both have an important place in abortion provision.”