Statistics reflect tragedy of abortions worldwide
By Jennifer Brinker
Special to The Key
JEFFERSON CITY - Every year, an estimated 46 million women around the world undergo abortions.
Samuel Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, presented that statistic and others at a workshop at the annual Missouri Catholic Conference Assembly Oct. 2 in Jefferson City.
His talk, "Abortion Around the World," focused on an overview of abortion statistics and laws around the world. He also provided information on pro-abortion and pro-life organizations around the world.
In the United States alone, the most recent figures show that about 2 percent of all women of childbearing age (15-44) had abortions in 2000, or 20 for every 1,000 women.
Much of the data presented at the workshop was collected from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research extension of Planned Parenthood. While Lee called the institute a definite pro-abortion organization, he added, "these are the figures we have to work with. In this case, we have no other source of reliable data on the numbers of abortions throughout the world."
He also noted that there is no pro-life group capable of independently compiling abortion statistics around the world.
The data, he admitted, was not easy to compile. Some methods of abortion are not included in abortion statistics in a given country. To give the statistics definition, he referred to what is called an "induced abortion," or a "provoked termination of pregnancy," as defined by the World Health Organization. Statistics reflect both legally and illegally induced abortions.
Lee's data showed that worldwide, 58 percent of women having abortions live in Asia; 17 percent live in Europe; 11 percent live in Africa; 9 percent live in Latin America; and 5 percent live in other developed countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. Those regions, he added, are defined by the United Nations.
In Europe, Romania has the highest abortion rate, which is 78 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The Eastern European country first legalized abortion on demand in 1957. Abortion was made illegal in 1966, and then the country reversed the law again in 1989.
Lee also noted that the highest abortion rate ever documented in official statistics was recorded in Romania in 1965. There were 252 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age during that year.
In Latin America, abortion is illegal in most countries. Cuba, Puerto Rico and some smaller Caribbean countries have legalized abortion.
The Caribbean has the highest rate of abortion in the region, partly because of the relatively high number of abortions in Cuba, said Lee. The abortion rate in Cuba is 78 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The number also includes menstrual extraction, a method of abortion performed soon after a missed menstrual period. Oftentimes, a pregnancy test is not administered before the procedure is performed.
In Asia, the highest rate of abortion is in Vietnam, where 83 per 1,000 women of childbearing age had abortions. The number, according to Lee, only represents public-sector abortions. With private-sector abortions included, the rate rises to about 111 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age.
In Vietnam, there is pressure on families to have abortions. Since 1983, the country has had a two-child per family policy. Lee noted that Communist Party members who have more than two children face expulsion. Parents also are often asked to cover the health care and education costs of a third child.
In India, abortion became legal in 1971. In that country, many couples abort their unborn daughters because of cultural preference for male offspring, Lee noted. The number of girls under the age of 6 has declined from 945 for every 1,000 boys in 1991 to 927 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2001. India enacted an amendment in 2002 that punishes those advertising sex-selective abortions.
In Africa, abortion is illegal, except for South Africa, Tunisia and to some degree in Zambia.
Until 1975, abortion in South Africa was permitted only when the life of the mother was endangered. After that year, the Abortion and Sterilization Act was enacted (with an amendment in 1982), which stated that abortions could be performed to preserve the life of the mother, if the pregnancy was a threat to the woman's physical or mental health, if the child would be born with a mental or physical defect, or when the pregnancy happened as a result of unlawful intercourse such as rape or incest, or with an "idiot or imbecile."
By 1996, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was enacted, which allowed abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks and up to 20 weeks for "broad socio-economic grounds."
In North America, Canada has an abortion rate of 15.5 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The country had an abortion law up until 1988, when the Canadian Supreme Court declared the entirety of the country's abortion law to be unconstitutional.
Some abortion regulations have been introduced in provinces across the country.
In the United States, abortion has slightly declined in recent years. In 1996, 1,365,700 million abortions were performed. In 2000, 1,312,000 abortions were performed in the nation.
In Oceania, Australia has an abortion rate of 22.2 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. Abortion in that country is subject to state law, rather than national law. Early-term abortions are generally available around the country.
In New Zealand, the abortion rate is 16.4 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The number of abortions there has increased. About 99 percent of abortions performed in New Zealand are performed because of danger to what is defined as the mental health of the woman.
Throughout his research, Lee said, "I had to deal with not being overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of abortions."
He said that he was reminded of a quote by former Communist ruler Joseph Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."
"I consciously did not want to think of those millions of babies and their mothers in those terms," he said. "These numbers are mind-numbing but reflect a very real tragedy for unborn children and their mothers throughout the world."