Measuring unsafe abortion-related mortality: a systematic review of the existing methods

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53346. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053346. Epub 2013 Jan 14.


Background: The WHO estimates that 13% of maternal mortality is due to unsafe abortion, but challenges with measurement and data quality persist. To our knowledge, no systematic assessment of the validity of studies reporting estimates of abortion-related mortality exists.

Study design: To be included in this study, articles had to meet the following criteria: (1) published between September 1(st), 2000-December 1(st), 2011; (2) utilized data from a country where abortion is "considered unsafe"; (3) specified and enumerated causes of maternal death including "abortion"; (4) enumerated ≥100 maternal deaths; (5) a quantitative research study; (6) published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Results: 7,438 articles were initially identified. Thirty-six studies were ultimately included. Overall, studies rated "Very Good" found the highest estimates of abortion related mortality (median 16%, range 1-27.4%). Studies rated "Very Poor" found the lowest overall proportion of abortion related deaths (median: 2%, range 1.3-9.4%).

Conclusions: Improvements in the quality of data collection would facilitate better understanding global abortion-related mortality. Until improved data exist, better reporting of study procedures and standardization of the definition of abortion and abortion-related mortality should be encouraged.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / adverse effects
  • Abortion, Induced / methods*
  • Abortion, Induced / mortality*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Mortality*
  • Pregnancy

Grants and funding

Funding for the doctoral dissertation by Caitlin Gerdts was provided by the University of California, Berkeley, Bixby Center for Population, Health, and Sustainability. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.