One in five pregnancies worldwide and more than half of pregnancies in eastern Europe end in abortion, according to a new study that examined abortion trends from 1995 to 2003.
The study, published Friday in a special maternal health edition of The Lancet medical journal, also found that a vast majority of abortions (35 million) were in the developing world and that nearly 97 percent of the estimated 70,000 women who die every year from unsafe abortions were in poor countries.
Furthermore, while more countries are allowing women to have abortions legally and the number of worldwide abortions has dipped from about 46 million in 1995 to just under 42 million in 2003, there was no change in the rate of unsafe abortions.
"The only way to decrease unsafe abortion is to increase contraception," concluded Sharon Camp, president and chief executive officer of the Guttmacher Institute in the United States, according to The Associated Press.
In their report, the study's authors – Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute and colleagues from the World Health Organization – noted the need for effective contraception to reduce the chances of pregnancy and thus reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.
They say the statistics in the study point to an unmet need for contraception.
Eastern Europe, for example, saw the biggest decrease in abortion rates between 1995 and 2003 – a decline which authors attributed to an increased use of modern contraception methods.
Still, the research found that there were more abortions than live births in eastern Europe with there being 105 abortions for every 100 live births. Western Europe, in comparison, witnessed 23 abortions for every 100 live births.
"Although abortion rates and ratios in the countries of the former Soviet Union have fallen substantially in recent years, the rates in Eastern Europe remain higher than any other region," the study's authors stated. "This finding suggests the need for continued improvements in and expansion of contraceptive service provision.
"The widespread preference for small families in this region indicates a high level of need for effective contraception," they added.
The study also reported that 33 abortions were performed in North America for every 100 live births. And in Africa, where abortion is illegal in most countries, there were 17 abortions for every 100 live births.
In related papers published in The Lancet this week, experts said there has been little improvement in helping women survive pregnancy and childbirth in the last two decades, particularly in the world's poorest countries.