Issues in focus: Abortion

Unsafe abortion refers to the termination of an unintended pregnancy either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking the minimal medical standards, or both.

Every eight minutes a woman dies somewhere in a developing country due to complications from an unsafe abortion. She most likely had little money or support to obtain safe services. She probably first tried to induce a termination herself. Failing that she would have turned to an unskilled, but relatively inexpensive, provider. Unsafe abortion accounts for an estimated 13% of maternal deaths. It leaves many more women unwell and disabled.

The cost of unsafe abortion-related ill-health and death was the subject of a technical meeting held at the Institute of Development Studies (UK) on 18 and 19 April 2007. It was funded by the Hewlett Foundation and brought together experts on unsafe abortion and economists specialising in costing methods. The meeting reviewed recent work estimating the cost of unsafe abortion to the health sector. Participants also discussed the economic costs to health systems, individuals and households, and the links between unsafe abortion and poverty.

Dr Hilary Standing, Director of Realising Rights was one of the contributors to the IDS World Health Day podcast, highlighting the issue of unsafe abortion. Listen here




Lynch, A., Standing, H. and Cornwall, A., 2008, Unsafe abortion: A development issue, IDS Bulletin, Vol 39, No 3, July 2008


Realising Rights, 2008, Combating unsafe abortion is key to improving maternal health (pdf)


ID21 Focus, 2007, The health dangers of unsafe abortion




Presentation given by Standing to the annual Eurongos Conference in 2009 on the economic costs of unsafe abortion

View more presentations from Kate Hawkins.




Abortion in the news

Coverage of our workshop 'Enforcement of Reproductive rights Laws and Policies' was picked up by Ghanaweb. In the article Nana Oye argues that legal abortion and family planning should be factored into the National Health Insurance Scheme to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Ghana.


A news article from the Institute of Development Studies highlights our new bulletin on abortion and the upcoming enquiry by the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health.


Unsafe abortion has had a high profile in the UK at the beginning of 2008 due to proposed changes to domestic legislation. A Realising Rights' letter to the Guardian Editor focussed on the international situation. This letter to the Guardian on unsafe abortion was picked up by IDS's local paper the Evening Argus.

Our letter to 'The Economist' also picked up on this issue.




Abortion Events

Hilary Standing of IDS made a presentation on the economic costs of unsafe abortion at the EURONGOs meeting, “Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Times of Economic Crisis”.


Realising Rights organised a panel session at the Marie Stopes International Global Safe Abortion Conference in London 23 & 24 October 2007.
>> Find out more about the panel

Listen to the interview about unsafe abortion on Network Africa, BBC World Service by Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (RHRA), Kenya partipants in the Realising Rights panel. listen


Find out more about mock abortion tribunals in Kenya.