Abortion is one of society's most polarizing issues and is regarded in vastly different ways around the world. When attempting to estimate the number of abortions performed each year, it's important to be mindful of the conditions under which abortions are performed. It is impossible to determine a precise number because many countries do not officially record abortions due to their illegality. The vast majority of reported abortions come from countries where abortion is outright legal. Here, abortions are usually administered by medical professionals in a safe and clean environment. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere.
Abortion is currently only outright legal in 68 countries, with conditional allowances in many others. Certain countries permit an abortion in the case that the mother has insufficient resources to adequately care for a child, if the child or mother would be impaired after birthing, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape. In 42 countries, however, abortion is only legal if a pregnancy would result in the mother's death.
It is in these countries, especially, where illegal abortions are performed privately, often by unlicensed personnel with inadequate facilities. It is possible, even likely, that abortion rates are far higher than estimates would suggest in countries where abortion is illegal, but the illegality of the process forces women to resort to unsafe methods. Tragically, unsafe abortions lead to 68,000 preventable deaths and 5 million long-term health complications each year. Unsafe abortions are the leading cause of maternal mortality.
One country that has had an especially complicated relationship with abortion is the United States. Prior to the 1973 court case, Roe v Wade, abortion was outright illegal in 31 states. However, the verdict reshaped the American framing of the issue. Today, abortion is legal in some facet throughout the United States and its territories, however states still retain their own restrictions.
There are some interesting phenomena that occur when we examine abortion statistics in the United States. 58.3% of women, aged 15-44, in the United States are white. However, white women accounted for just 35% of the total abortions given in 2016. Alternatively, black women account for about 14.2% of the population of women aged 15-44, yet had abortions at around 5 times that rate, accounting for 38% of the total abortions performed in the United States that year.
One way to generate an approximation of the total number of abortions throughout the world is to take the abortion rates from reporting countries and compare them to the total population of women aged 15-44. Abortion rate is a somewhat effective metric for measuring the frequency of abortions by country. However, like all statistics, abortion rate is dependent on recorded information, and utterly fails to account for countries where abortion is illegal and abortions are not officially recorded.
If we compile the numbers afforded by this metric, all together, there are approximately 14 million recorded abortions each year around the world. The country that has the most abortions is China, where an estimated 6.9 million are performed each year. There is a bit of correlation between a country's population and it's number of reported abortions, but there is a lot more correlation between the degree to which abortion is legal in a given country. China is the world's most populous country and one where abortion is outright legal on request. These two factors contribute to China edging out the second placed Russia by over 5 million.
Despite having one-tenth the population of China, Russia records about 1/4 the abortions annually. Russia is the country with the highest abortion rate, at 53.7 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. In Russia, the term "abortion culture" has arisen to explain the reguardance of abortion as the conventional way for young families to preempt financial and socioeconomic issues. While Russia's abortion rate has fallen considerably in recent years as sex education and access to contraception have improved, Russia still leads the world in abortion rate by nearly 20% (Vietnam 35.2).
The United States, The United Kingdom and Australia all have differing abortion protocol based on their subdivisions. For example, in the United States, abortion is outright legal without restriction in some states like Washington and Colorado. Alternatively, however, some states have mandated restrictions that make it almost impossible for a woman to get an abortion even though it remains technically "legal" under federal regulation.
The top ten countries by annual abortions:
Total recorded abortions annually ~ 14 million