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Unsafe abortion

Melissa L Gilliam, MD, MPH
Sadia Haider, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Jody Steinauer, MD, MAS
Deputy Editor
Sandy J Falk, MD, FACOG


Approximately 213 million pregnancies occur worldwide each year and 42 million of these pregnancies end in abortion [1]. Approximately 22 million of these abortions are "safe" and the other 20 million are "unsafe" [2] (see 'Definition of safe and unsafe abortion' below). Unsafe abortion is a major factor in maternal morbidity and mortality and accounts for about 4.7 to 13.2 percent of maternal deaths worldwide each year [3]. Women in developing countries were treated for complications related to unsafe abortion at an estimated rate of 6.9 per 1000 women, or 7.4 per 1000 women when countries where abortion is legal and widely accessible were excluded [4]. Additionally, one in eight pregnancy-related deaths are the result of unsafe abortion [2]. Unsafe abortion has large economic costs, as well, since the incomplete procedure creates a need for hospital care.

The risk of complications and death from unsafe abortion is inversely related to the provider’s skill, conditions for performing the procedure, and availability of appropriate equipment. Some unsafe abortions are self-induced; the consequences in these cases also depend on whether the woman seeks medical care. Social stigma, legal threats, and fear can prevent women from accessing post-abortion care, which is a critical aspect of saving lives [5].

In 2000, 189 nations pledged to free people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations. This pledge became the eight Millennium Development Goals, which are [6]:

End poverty and hunger

Universal education

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 12, 2017.
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