According to the World Health Organization, roughly 73 million induced abortions occur worldwide each year, with 61% of all unintended pregnancies and 29% of all pregnancies in general ending with an abortion. The WHO also keeps a database of each country's abortion laws, policies, and level of abortion support in the health care system.
Tracking the rate of abortion in various countries around the world is difficult because many nations do not record or report abortion rates. This is especially true in nations where abortion is illegal, and thus no official records are kept. One frequently cited database of abortion rates is the World Abortion Policies report created by the United Nations. This report measures the number of abortions performed on women between the ages of 15 to 44 in a given country. The U.N. data offers a strong example of the shortcomings of abortion statistics: It covers less than a third of the world's 193 countries and is increasingly outdated, yet it remains some of the best data available.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Abortion Rates (annually per 1000 women) - United Nations
- Russia - 53.7 (2004)
- Vietnam - 35.2 (2000)
- Kazakhstan - 35.0 (2004)
- Estonia - 33.3 (2005)
- Belarus - 31.7 (2004)
- Romania - 27.8 (2004)
- Ukraine - 27.5 (2004)
- Latvia - 27.3 (2004)
- Cuba - 24.8 (2004)
- China - 24.0 (1998)
According to UN data, Russia's abortion rate is 53.7 per 1,000 women. Vietnam has the second-highest rate at 35.2, followed by Kazakhstan with 35. On the opposite end, Mexico has the lowest abortion rate of 0.1, followed by Portugal with 0.2. Abortion is legal in all of these nations.
Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Abortion Rates (annually per 1000 women) - United Nations*
- Mexico - 0.1 (2003)
- Portugal - 0.2 (2002)
- Qatar - 1.2 (2004)
- Austria - 1.3 (2001)
- India - 3.1 (2001)
- South Africa - 4.5 (2000)
- Greece - 5.0 (1999)
- Croatia - 5.7 (2004)
- Switzerland - 7.3 (2004)
- Belgium - 7.5 (2003)
* Note: Brazil, Panama, and Poland are listed as having a rate of 0.0. As it is unclear whether this indicates missing data or an actual value of 0, those countries have been left off the ranking.
Abortion rates in the United States
The United States has an abortion rate of 20.8 abortions per 1,000 women. A women's right to abortion was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade. The decision states that the government cannot regulate a women's choice to have an abortion before the fetus's viability. However, specific abortion laws vary by state, including some that attempt to restrict abortions before viability. Because of different regulations on abortion and other factors, abortion rates also vary significantly between states. Moreover, many political analysts and legal experts believe it is increasingly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe vs Wade in the near future.
The unusual relation between abortion rates and abortion frequency
Perhaps surprisingly, studies show that abortion rates are often higher in nations where abortion is illegal than they are in nations where it is legal. This is because abortion tends to be more readily available in wealthier, more developed nations, where women are less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy—in large part because birth control and proper sexual education are also widely available and sexual crimes are less common.
Conversely, women in developing and least-developed countries, who tend to have decreased access to birth control and education, but who are more often the victims of sexual crimes, are three times more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy. Yet, 93 percent of the countries with the most restrictive abortion laws are developing nations.
As a result of these factors, the market for abortions is greater in underdeveloped countries even when abortion is legally prohibited. With no legal recourse, pregnant women in these countries often turn to unlicensed and illegal abortion clinics to obtain an abortion. Illegal abortions are more dangerous than legal abortions, as they tend to be conducted by people with less training, and they come with higher risks and complications, including the risk of death of the mother. Ultimately, according to the World Health Organization, roughly 45% of all abortions are unsafe, and 97% of those unsafe abortions are performed in developing countries.