In Brief

One in four pregnancies ends in abortion, say new global estimates

WHO report suggests a 'stark and troubling divide' in termination rates around the world

One in four pregnancies ends in abortion, according to global estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The study, published in The Lancet, shows the annual number of abortions worldwide increased from 50 million a year between 1990-1994 to 56 million a year between 2010-2014.

But there is a "stark and troubling divide between what's happening in wealthier, developed countries versus their poorer and less developed counterparts", says the Washington Post.

The researchers found that between 1990 and 2014, the developed world's annual abortion rate per 1,000 women dropped from 46 to 27, mainly, they say, as a result of the rate in Eastern Europe more than halving as modern contraceptive methods became more widely available.

However, the rate remained relatively unchanged in the developing world, dropping slightly from 39 to 37.

"We think this is because the desire for small families and precisely timed births has outpaced the uptake of contraceptive use," said Gilda Sedgh, a principal research scientist with the Guttmacher Institute, which co-funded the study.

The report also found that rates of abortion were constant across all countries, regardless of the legal issues. In Latin America, where abortion is heavily restricted, one in three pregnancies ends in termination – higher than any other region in the world.

These findings suggest that "restrictive abortion laws do not limit the number of abortions", say the researchers.

"The high rates of abortion seen in our study provide further evidence of the need to improve and expand access to effective contraceptive services," said Dr Bela Ganatra of the WHO.

"Investing in modern contraceptive methods would be far less costly to women and to society than having unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions," she added.

But the study implies the solution is "not as simple as improving access to contraceptives", reports the BBC.

Many women said they had chosen not to use contraceptives because they were worried about side effects, felt stigmatised or thought there was a low risk they would become pregnant, adds the broadcaster.

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