Evidence shows that restricting access to abortion does not reduce the number of abortions. What it does is increase the likelihood of an unsafe procedure. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in countries with the least restrictive abortion laws, less than one per cent of abortions are typically unsafe. In the most restrictive, that number goes up to 31 per cent.
Over the past two decades, the health evidence, technologies and human rights rationale for providing safe, comprehensive abortion care have evolved greatly. However, despite these advances, the World Health Organisation estimates that there are approximately 22 million unsafe abortions annually, resulting in 47,000 deaths and five million complications that end in hospital admission.
Nearly all unsafe abortions occur in low-and middle-income countries. One of the factors driving unsafe abortion is the lack of safe abortion services, even where they are legal. Restriction in access to safe abortion services has resulted in both unsafe abortions and unwanted births. Almost all deaths and morbidity from unsafe abortion occur in countries where abortion is severely restricted.
In countries where induced abortion is legally restricted, safe abortion has frequently become the privilege of the rich, while poor women have little choice but to resort to unsafe providers referred to as quacks. This results in a large number of unnecessary deaths and morbidities, resulting in a social and financial burden for public health systems. Where there are few restrictions on access to safe abortion, deaths and illness are reduced.
We live in times that won’t allow us to experience restrictive legislation on abortion, like the anti-abortion Geneva Consensus Declaration adopted in October 2020, which officially affirms that “there’s no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of states to finance or facilitate abortion”. This declaration further goes ahead to state that the ‘traditional family’ which is a heterosexual union and their children is the “fundamental group unit of society”.
Whether abortion is legally restricted or not, the likelihood that a woman will have an abortion for an unintended pregnancy is about the same. Legal restrictions on abortion do not result in fewer abortions, nor do they result in significant increases in birth rates. However, a lack of legal access to abortion services is likely to increase the number of women seeking illegal and unsafe abortions, leading to increased morbidity and mortality.
Kelvin Mokaya is a reproductive health expert