Should abortion be banned?
An abortion is a medical procedure that ends a pregnancy. It is a basic healthcare need for millions of women, girls and others who can become pregnant. Worldwide, an estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies end in an abortion every year.
But while the need for abortion is common, access to safe and legal abortion services is far from guaranteed for those who may need abortion services.
In fact, access to abortion is one of the most hotly contested topics globally, and the debate is clouded by misinformation about the true ramifications of restricting access to this basic healthcare service.
People have abortions all the time, regardless of what the law says
Ending a pregnancy is a common decision that millions of people make – every year a quarter of pregnancies end in abortion.
And regardless of whether abortion is legal or not, people still require and regularly access abortion services. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a US-based reproductive health non-profit, the abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 people in countries that prohibit abortion altogether or allow it only in instances to save a woman’s life, and 34 per 1,000 people in countries that broadly allow for abortion, a difference that is not statistically significant.
When undertaken by a trained health-care provider in sanitary conditions, abortions are one of the safest medical procedures available, safer even than child birth.
But when governments restrict access to abortions, people are compelled to resort to clandestine, unsafe abortions, particularly those who cannot afford to travel or seek private care. Which brings us to the next point.
Criminalising abortion does not stop abortions, it just makes abortion less safe
Preventing women and girls from accessing an abortion does not mean they stop needing one. That’s why attempts to ban or restrict abortions do nothing to reduce the number of abortions, it only forces people to seek out unsafe abortions.
Unsafe abortions are defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.”
They estimate that 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year, the vast majority of them in developing countries.
In contrast to a legal abortion that is carried out by a trained medical provider, unsafe abortions can have fatal consequences. So much so that unsafe abortions are the third leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide and lead to an additional five million largely preventable disabilities, according to the WHO.