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The Risks of Unsafe Abortions Around the World

Almost half of all the abortions that take place in the world each year are performed illegally or unsafely. The abortion rate in countries where it is legal is about 34 per 1000 women (although it is much lower in the UK). In countries where abortion is illegal or very strictly regulated, the rate in 37 per 1000. Many women experience serious complications as a result of these unsafe procedures. Some even die as a result.

Why Do Women Have Unsafe Abortions?

Given the risks of illegal or “backstreet” abortions, it can seem surprising that so many women decide to have these procedures. If you live in a country like the UK, where abortion is available safely and legally, you might not have considered what you would do if you couldn’t get the care you need. Having an abortion can be a difficult decision, wherever you live, but it is even harder when you can’t get access to safe, legal care.

Despite the risks, large numbers of women still decide to have unsafe abortions every year, even in countries where the legal consequences are very grave. Every woman has her own reasons for making this decision. Some are already struggling to support their children and are unable to cope with another child. Others are unmarried and fear the repercussions of becoming a single mother in a traditional or religious community where this is not socially acceptable. In some cases, women are suffering from medical problems and can’t access legal abortion care.

Women who take the legal and health risks of an unsafe abortion have had to make a very difficult decision. Their reasons for seeking an abortion must outweigh these risks. Having an unsafe medical treatment that could put their lives at risk can seem like the only option.

The Impact of Unsafe Abortions

Unsafe abortions can have very serious consequences. The risk of complications is much higher than for a safe, legal abortion performed by a doctor. Women can experience severe side effects, be put through unsafe or ineffective procedures, or even die as a result. Approximately 70,000 deaths each year are linked to unsafe abortions.

Potential risks of an unsafe abortion include:

  • Infection, especially when abortions are performed in unhygienic environments or with instruments that have not been properly sterilised
  • Damage to the cervix and womb when untrained people attempt to perform surgical abortions on themselves or others, often with inappropriate instruments
  • Severe blood loss, which could be fatal if the bleeding isn’t stopped and the proper treatment isn’t given in time
  • Material being left in the womb, which could cause pain and increase the risk of problems such as infection

Women who seek out abortions in countries where it is illegal can also be at risk of prosecution if they are caught. The sentences can be very severe, so women may feel unable to seek medical care if they experience complications after an abortion, even if it could save their lives.

Abortion is a very safe medical procedure when it is performed by a doctor in a clean and well-equipped clinic. Increasing access to family planning services and safe abortion care could improve the lives of women around the world and prevent many unnecessary deaths.

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