Abortion Rates At An All-Time Low In Developed Countries

Photographed by Tayler Smith.
As the many debates over reproductive rights continue to rage in the U.S., new research shows that the developed world has actually hit its lowest rate of abortions ever. And, the study suggests, improved access to birth control options in developed countries has been a major factor in the trend.

For the study, published online this week in The Lancet, researchers at the World Health Organization and Guttmacher Institute teamed up to analyze data from 92 countries and territories. The data were all collected through national surveys, official government statistics, and other studies.

The researchers found that, overall, the rate of abortion has declined from an average of 40 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 1990 to 35 in 2014. The U.S. has one of the lowest rates globally, at just 17 per 1,000 women. However, most of that overall decrease is thanks to the declining rate in developed countries (like the U.S.), which is now at an all-time low of 27 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. In contrast, the rate in developing countries has stayed pretty much steady at about 38.

That difference is due in large part to the disparity in access to birth control options, such as IUDs and the pill, the researchers suggest. "More women living in countries with the most restrictive abortion laws have an unmet need for contraception — that is, they want to avoid getting pregnant but are not using a method of family planning — than women in countries with more liberal laws," said the study's lead author, Gilda Sedgh, in a press release. "This adds to the incidence of abortion in countries with restrictive laws."

So that's another reason to keep tabs on our changing access to birth control and other reproductive rights — including the right to choose — during this election.

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