National laws and unsafe abortion: the parameters of change

Reprod Health Matters. 2004 Nov;12(24 Suppl):1-8. doi: 10.1016/s0968-8080(04)24024-1.


Unsafe abortion and associated morbidity and mortality in women are completely avoidable. This paper reports on an analysis of the association between legal grounds for abortion in national laws and unsafe abortion, drawing on an unpublished study and using estimates of the incidence of and mortality from unsafe abortion using information from the sources used to estimate the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2000. Although legal grounds alone may not reflect the way in which the law is applied, nor the quality of services offered, a clear pattern was found in more than 160 countries indicating that where legislation allows abortion on broad indications, there is a lower incidence of unsafe abortion and much lower mortality from unsafe abortions, as compared to legislation that greatly restricts abortion. The data also show that most abortions become safe mainly or only where women's reasons for abortion, and the legal grounds for abortion coincide. This is a compelling public health argument for making abortion legal on the broadest possible grounds. A wide range of actions have formed part of national campaigns for safe, legal abortion over the past century, covering law reform, provision of safe services, ensuring quality of care, training for providers and information and support for women. Safe abortion is an essential health service for women, as essential for sexual and reproductive health as safe contraception, and safe pregnancy and delivery care. In spite of sometimes powerful opposition and terrible setbacks, the public health imperative is gaining ground in many parts of the globe.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / adverse effects*
  • Abortion, Induced / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Abortion, Induced / mortality
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence
  • Public Health
  • Safety*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology