(April 2011) Abortion is a sensitive and contentious issue with religious, moral, cultural, and political dimensions. It is also a public health concern in many parts of the world. More than one-quarter of the world’s people live in countries where the procedure is prohibited or permitted only to save the woman’s life. Yet, regardless of legal status, abortions still occur, and nearly half of them are performed by an unskilled practitioner or in less than sanitary conditions, or both.

Abortions performed under unsafe conditions claim the lives of tens of thousands of women around the world every year, leave many times that number with chronic and often irreversible health problems, and drain the resources of public health systems. Often, however, controversy overshadows the public health impact.

This guide provides data and other information to help shed light on the public health aspects of unsafe abortion.


Deborah Mesce is program director, International Media Training, at the Population Reference Bureau. Donna Clifton is a communications specialist at PRB.

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