Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide


• After declining substantially between 1995 and 2003, the worldwide abortion rate stalled between 2003 and 2008. [1]

• Between 1995 and 2003, the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age—i.e., those aged 15–44) for the world overall dropped from 35 to 29. It remained virtually unchanged, at 28, in 2008. [1]

• Nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and nearly all unsafe abortions (98%) occur in developing countries. In the developing world, 56% of all abortions are unsafe, compared with just 6% in the developed world. [1]

• The proportion of abortions worldwide that take place in the developing world increased between 1995 and 2008 from 78% to 86%, in part because the proportion of all women who live in the developing world increased during this period. [1]

• Since 2003, the number of abortions fell by 600,000 in the developed world but increased by 2.8 million in the developing world. In 2008, six million abortions were performed in developed countries and 38 million in developing countries, a disparity that largely reflects population distribution. [1]

• A woman’s likelihood of having an abortion is slightly elevated if she lives in a developing region. In 2008, there were 29 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years in developing countries, compared with 24 in the developed world. [1]


• The overall abortion rate in Africa, where the vast majority of abortions are illegal and unsafe, showed no decline between 2003 and 2008, holding at 29 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. [1]


• The Southern Africa subregion, dominated by South Africa, where abortion was legalized in 1997, has the lowest abortion rate of all African subregions, at 15 per 1,000 women in 2008. East Africa has the highest rate, at 38, followed by Middle Africa at 36, West Africa at 28 and North Africa at 18. [1]

• Both the lowest and highest subregional abortion rates are in Europe, where abortion is generally legal under broad grounds. In Western Europe, the rate is 12 per 1,000 women, while in Eastern Europe it is 43.[1] The discrepancy in rates between the two regions reflects relatively low contraceptive use in Eastern Europe, as well as a high degree of reliance on methods with relatively high user failure rates, such as the condom, withdrawal and the rhythm method.

• In Europe, 30% of pregnancies end in abortion. A higher proportion of pregnancies end in abortion in Eastern Europe than in the rest of the region. [1]

• In Eastern Europe, the abortion rate held steady at 43 per 1,000 women between 2003 and 2008, after a period of steep decline between the mid-90s and the early 2000s. [1]

• Western Europe, Southern Africa and Northern Europe have the lowest abortion rates in the world, at 12, 15 and 17, respectively. [1]

• The abortion rate fell in Latin America from 37 to 31 abortions per 1,000 women between 1995 and 2003; it has held fairly steady since, reaching 32 in 2008. [1]

• In Latin America, subregional abortion rates range from 29 in Central America (the subregion that includes Mexico) to 32 in South America and 39 in the Caribbean. The Caribbean (the subregion that includes Cuba, where abortions are generally safe) has the lowest proportion of abortions in the region that are unsafe (46%), compared with nearly 100% in Central and South America. [1]

• In Asia, abortion rates across subregions held steady between 2003 and 2008, ranging from 26 per 1,000 in South Central Asia and Western Asia to 36 per 1,000 in Southeastern Asia. [1]

• Abortion incidence appears to have risen in China since 2003, after an extended period of decline. Evidence shows that this is due to an increase in premarital sexual activity and disruptions in access to contraceptive services resulting from rapid urbanization.


1. Sedgh G et al., Induced abortion worldwide in 2008: levels and trends, Lancet, 2012, (forthcoming)