The number of abortions worldwide fell between 1995 and 2003 as contraceptive use increased and more countries liberalized their abortion laws, according to a new survey released by a pro-choice nonprofit.
From 45.5 million in 1995, the number of abortions dropped to 41.6 million in 2003, the Guttmacher Institute reported Tuesday in "Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress."
The institute attributed the fewer abortions to the wide provision of contraceptive services. Globally, the proportion of married women practicing contraception increased from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003. Contraceptive use also increased among unmarried, sexually active young women in many developing countries.
The unintended pregnancy rate, meanwhile, declined from 69 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1995 to 55 per 1,000 in 2008.
Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, said in a statement that the "progress" made in increasing contraceptive use is good news.
But she lamented the some 70,000 women who die each year from the effects of unsafe abortion, mainly in the less developed countries. While there have been reductions in levels of safe abortions – from 20 to 15 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 – the number of unsafe abortions has changed little from 19.9 million to 19.7 million.
"In almost all developed countries, abortion is safe and legal. But in much of the developing world, abortion remains highly restricted, and unsafe abortion is common and continues to damage women's health and threaten their survival," Camp noted.
Since 1997, 19 countries have reduced restrictions in their abortions laws and only three countries have substantially increased legal restrictions. The report points out that abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is broadly legal and in regions where it is highly restricted.
The report states, "Restricting abortion by law does not guarantee a low abortion rate, nor does permitting it on broad grounds guarantee a high rate. Legal status does, however, affect the safety of abortion."
The Guttmacher Institute calls for expanded access to modern contraceptives and to legal abortion, arguing that there would be "enormous individual and societal benefits – for women, their families and countries as a whole."
But Deirdre McQuade, a policy director with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, told The Associated Press that they need to be "much more creative in assisting women with supportive services so they don't need to resort to the unnatural act of abortion."
She also contended that use of artificial contraception could increase women's health risks and said they would fare better using natural family planning methods approved by the church, as reported by AP.
While the Guttmacher Institute makes the case for contraception and legalized abortion, pro-lifers across the states have found a different way to reduce the number of abortions. Participants in the annual 40 Days for Life campaign have helped save 251 babies from being aborted in less than a month. Since Sept. 23 they have stood outside abortion clinics in prayer and with signs such as "Smile Your Mom Chose Life." They've helped change the minds of hundreds women who were considering abortion.
The Guttmacher report was compiled to assess "progress over the past decade regarding the legality, safety and accessibility of abortion services worldwide." It offers profiles on abortion in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa.
Of the estimated 21.9 million safe abortions carried out in 2003, more than two-thirds (15.8 million) took place in the less developed world, predominantly in Asia. In Europe and the United States, 3.9 million and 1.5 million safe abortions were conducted, respectively.
The report comes as more Americans have shifted from the pro-choice position to the pro-life camp. A Pew Research Center survey, conducted in August, found that the percentage of Americans who support legalized abortion dropped from 54 percent in previous years to 47 percent this year. Opposition to abortion grew from 40 percent to 44 percent.