Why resort to illegal abortion in Zambia? Findings of a community-based study in Western Province

Soc Sci Med. 1998 May;46(10):1303-12. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(97)10058-2.


This article presents part of the findings of a community-based study on the causes and effects of unplanned pregnancies in four districts of Western Province, Zambia. The study broke the silence around abortion in Western Province and revealed that induced abortion poses a public health problem. Using innovative methodology of recording and analyzing histories of deaths from induced abortion, the abortion mortality ratio was calculated for the study districts. Findings reveal all extremely high induced abortion mortality ratio of 120 induced abortion-related deaths per 100,000 live births. More than half the deaths were of schoolgirls. Although abortion in Zambia is legal on medical and social grounds, most women in Western Province resort to illegal abortions because legal abortion services are inaccessible and unacceptable. The main reasons women resort to abortion is for fear of being expelled from school, their unwillingness to reveal a secret relationship, to protect the health of their previous baby and common knowledge that postpartum sexual taboos have been transgressed. An inventory was made of abortion methods, taboos and abortion-providers. The article describes how health staff were involved throughout the study, and shows how recommendations were made by involving all parties concerned.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Criminal* / statistics & numerical data
  • Abortion, Legal / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted* / statistics & numerical data
  • Zambia