Abortion rates are at an all-time low in the developed world, having dropped by more than 40 percent over the past 25 years. But in developing countries—many of which have outlawed abortion and make contraception difficult to access—the rate of abortions has stayed nearly constant, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization.
The new estimates, published Wednesday in the Lancet, provide another bit of evidence that criminalizing abortion does not curb the practice. In countries where abortion is completely illegal or permitted only to save the life of the pregnant woman, the most recent data places the average annual abortion rate at 37 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In countries where abortion is legal in most cases, the rate is 34 per 1,000 women.
“The obvious interpretation is that criminalizing abortion does not prevent it but, rather, drives women to seek illegal services or methods,” wrote Diana Greene Foster of the University of California’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health in a comment linked to the report. “But this simple story overlooks the many women who, in the absence of safe legal services, carry unwanted pregnancies to term.”