Access to safe, legal abortion improves the health of women

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Wednesday November 1, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Tuesday October 31, 2006

When abortion is made legal, safe and easily accessible, women's health rapidly improves, according to the fourth paper in the Online/Series published today.

Every year, an estimated 19-20 million abortions are done by individuals without prerequisite skills, or in environments below minimum medical standards, or both. Almost all unsafe abortions - 97% - are in developing countries. Worldwide, 68 000 women die as a result of complications from unsafe induced abortions every year about eight per hour.

The prevalence of unsafe abortions remains the highest in the 82 countries where abortion is legally restricted. While legalising abortion is necessary it is not sufficient to eliminate unsafe abortion, according to David Grimes (University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC, USA) and colleagues. They say that abortion needs to be made safe and easily accessible, as well as legal. The authors highlight the case of South Africa, where abortion became legal and available on request in 1997 and subsequently, abortion-related deaths dropped 91% between 1994 and 2001.

"Women have always had abortions and will always continue to do so, irrespective of prevailing laws, religious proscriptions, or social norms. Although the ethical debate over abortion will continue, the public-health record is clear and incontrovertible: access to safe, legal abortion on request improves health," conclude the authors.

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EARLY ONLINE PUBLICATION: Wednesday November 1, 2006

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Wednesday November 1, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Tuesday October 31, 2006.


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