Context: Accurate measurement of induced abortion levels has proven difficult in many parts of the world. Health care workers and policymakers need information on the incidence of both legal and illegal induced abortion to provide the needed services and to reduce the negative impact of unsafe abortion on women's health.
Methods: Numbers and rates of induced abortions were estimated from four sources: official statistics or other national data on legal abortions in 57 countries; estimates based on population surveys for two countries without official statistics; special studies for 10 countries where abortion is highly restricted; and worldwide and regional estimates of unsafe abortion from the World Health Organization.
Results: Approximately 26 million legal and 20 million illegal abortions were performed worldwide in 1995, resulting in a worldwide abortion rate of 35 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. Among the subregions of the world, Eastern Europe had the highest abortion rate (90 per 1,000) and Western Europe to the lowest rate (11 per 1,000). Among countries where abortion is legal without restriction as to reason, the highest abortion rate, 83 per 1,000, was reported for Vietnam and the lowest, seven per 1,000, for Belgium and the Netherlands. Abortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law (and where many abortions are performed under unsafe conditions) than in areas where abortion is legally permitted.
Conclusions: Both developed and developing countries can have low abortion rates. Most countries, however, have moderate to high abortion rates, reflecting lower prevalence and effectiveness of contraceptive use. Stringent legal restrictions do not guarantee a low abortion rate.