Understanding Abortion – Important Facts (2019 Vision)

Abortion is a considerably controversial topic in many countries of the world. The issue spans economic, political, ethical and religious lines and has and is still being greatly debated around the world. In light of this, it is important that we understand the truth about it. Amidst the vast sea of disinformation on abortion, it is important that you arm yourself with the truth. To achieve consensus on abortion, we must first seek to objectively understand it and to do so, we must know the hard facts about it. Below are some important facts you should know about abortion in order to understand the issue.

Abortion is More Common than You Think

Despite being taboo in some countries, abortion does commonly occur. In fact, it is more common that one would think. Statistics from Amnesty International show that each year twenty-five percent of all pregnancies are aborted. This statistic remains true regardless of whether the abortion has been made legal in a certain jurisdiction or not. In fact, ironically, countries that ban abortion have higher abortion rates than those that permit it. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, in countries that completely ban abortion or severely restrict it, the abortion rate amounts to 37 in every 1000 pregnancies. In contrast in countries that allow for abortion, the figure stands at 34 for every 1000 pregnancies. This goes to show that if anything, legally restricting abortion has no effect on its occurrence.

Moreover, when access to medical care is provided, abortion is a very safe procedure. In fact, it may be safer than giving birth! On the contrary, however, in countries that severely restrict abortion, it may become fatal. Currently, around twenty-two million abortions occur in risky circumstances. Alarmingly, according to the World Health Organization, unsafe abortions are the third most common cause of maternal fatalities!

Legal Penalization of Abortion Increases Abortion Fatalities

As seen from the Guttmacher Institute’s statistics above, the legal restriction of abortion has no effect on its prevalence. More so, the numbers show that in countries where abortion is severely restricted the practice is even more prevalent. Effects of the criminalization of abortion are all negative, the saddest of which is the increased fatalities due to unsafe abortion.

When states ban abortion, they tie the hands of doctors who would want to provide safe procedures. Moreso, in a bid to comply with the countries’ laws, doctors may be tempted to completely abandon safe abortion procedures even in countries where abortion is permitted in certain circumstances. They do this as a risk avoidance mechanism.

Legal restriction of Abortion, therefore, forces pregnant women to seek unsafe and life-threatening options, thus ultimately leading to abortion becoming the third most common cause of maternal fatalities.

Abortion Rates Can Be Lessened Through Other Means

Criminalization of abortion has never been a means to curb it. In fact, it is extremely ineffective. Simple measures like ensuring access to contraceptives and sex-education amongst the youth are better ways of preventing abortion. To understand the efficacy of these measures, one first needs to realize that abortions do not often occur out of the risk to the life of the mother or fetal abnormalities. In many instances, the underlying reasons are often socio-economic. Research from the World Health Organization shows that in countries where there is no adequate access to contraceptives, abortion rates are significantly higher.

The Tide is Changing

Many countries are reforming their abortion laws to make them less discriminative. Change is not an event but a process. Mirroring this fact, within the past sixty years more than thirty-five countries have eased their legal restrictions on abortion. Our own Ireland is one such nation. In 2018, the people voted against the constitutional ban on abortion, a landmark event on the fight for safe access to abortion.

Nevertheless, more still needs to be done. Many countries such as Malta, the Vatican, and Nicaragua still completely ban abortion. Studies show that forty percent of all fertile women reside in such countries.

Moreover, even in countries where abortion is legal or less restricted, this doesn’t make it accessible. Social stigma against abortion has a great effect on the accessibility of safe abortion. Further, still, cost is also a major issue. In some instances, safe abortion may be so expensive that the affected turn to unsafe methods as a cheaper alternative. The good news is that these often hidden factors are now being brought to light. In fact, the World Health Organisation has criteria enabling states to shed light on some of these problems.

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Abortion Statistics Around the World

Regardless of the fact that abortion is a sensitive issue, it must nevertheless be discussed and its merits brought to the open. Mirroring the words of a student letter to the government in 2015 on abortion, we sometimes ignore, hide or simply refuse to acknowledge the fact that abortion does indeed occur. In ignoring it, we neglect women who need access to healthcare before and after the abortion. We dehumanize women who go through it, and we refuse to acknowledge that there are indeed legitimate reasons for not wanting to have a child. More so, we deliberately forget that abortion primarily affects the woman, in ways that can barely be explained. The world is changing, but change is not an event- it is a process. In light of this, this article highlights some worldwide abortion statistics to paint a clear picture of the status of abortion around the world.

Twenty Five Percent of all Pregnancies End in Abortion

Regardless of legal restrictions on abortions around the world, the Guttmacher Institute reports that about a quarter of all pregnancies are aborted every year. This statistics stands in sharp contrast with the justification that many countries have on restricting access to abortion. In fact, statistics show that out of the twenty-five percent of pregnancies terminated worldwide, a larger portion of that percentage can be attributed to countries that restrict access to abortion.

Abortion Rates Decrease when Countries Legalize It

Stringent abortion laws are justified on grounds that they are a means of reducing abortion incidences. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It has been proved time and again that when countries lessen restrictions on abortion, the rates actually decrease. To highlight this phenomenon we compare Switzerland and Pakistan. In Switzerland, abortion is permitted at the discretion of the woman within the first trimester. Beyond the first trimester, the legal criteria for permissibility are very broad and generally involves risk to the woman’s health or distress should the pregnancy continue. Those in favor of strict abortion laws would intuitively think that the abortion rates in Switzerland are very high. Surprisingly, this is not the case at all. On the contrary, the country has the lowest abortion rates with only five for every one thousand women. In Pakistan where abortion carries a potential jail term if carried out outside grounds of the woman’s health, abortion rates are the highest in the world. In Pakistan, fifty women in a thousand have an abortion! The United States is also a great example. The nation has some of the most liberal abortion laws yet rates remain low at thirteen for every a thousand women. On a worldwide scale, the same phenomenon holds true. In general abortion rates have significantly reduced in the past twenty-five years. In the years 2010-2014 it was reported that on a worldwide scale 35 women carry out an abortion out of every 1000. This figure marked a decreased from the previously recorded ration of 40:1000. The interesting statistic though is that the drop is largely attributed to countries with less stringent abortion laws. Countries with liberal laws saw a drastic drop from 46 women to 27 women for every thousand. This is to be compared with the minuscule drop from 39 women to 36 in countries that have strict abortion laws.

Eastern Europe has the Sharpest Decline in Abortion Rates in Europe

Largely attributed to changing socio-economic conditions in the sub-region following an end to communism a comparative study done from the years 1990- ‘94 and 2010-2014 established that there was a drastic decrease in abortion incidents. The recorded figure the 1990’s study reported abortion rates of 88 for every 1000 women. This is in stark contrast to the figure in the 2010s which stood at a jaw-dropping 42 for every 100 women. An analysis of this statistic highlights a common trend that improved access to contraceptives can reduce unwanted pregnancies thus greatly reducing abortion incidents.

Most European Countries have Less Stringent Abortion Laws

It seems that with the exception of Malta, the Vatican City, Andorra, and Liechtenstein,  many European countries permit abortion in one way or another. Most restrict abortion for medical reasons, both physical and mental. In many neighboring countries, a physician’s consent is also required beyond 10-12 weeks of pregnancy. Ireland recently joined the ranks of countries with less stringent abortion laws having amended its laws in 2018.

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Irish abortion survey finds majority of people support decriminalisation

Two-thirds of Irish people want abortion decriminalised, according to a survey that signals a major shift in views on a woman’s right to choose in a country that still outlaws most terminations.

Eight out of 10 people polled for Amnesty International favoured some liberalisation of the law, and 65% said abortion should be decriminalised.
Two years ago, Ireland’s parliament, the Dáil, passed legislation allowing for abortion in extremely limited cases of medical emergencies or when there is risk of suicide if pregnancy goes to full term. Under the law, doctors and medical professionals have the right ultimately to determine if a woman’s life is at risk in these circumstances.
Abortion remains unavailable, for instance, to Irish women who are raped or whose pregnancies are doomed as a result of foetal abnormalities.

The findings of the poll, based on 1,000 telephone interviews in May, demonstrate a widespread lack of knowledge about the legal risk of carrying out abortions in Ireland.
Sixty-four per cent of those surveyed did not know that it is a crime to get an abortion in Ireland when a woman’s life is not at risk. Only 9% knew that having an unlawful abortion can lead to up to 14 years in jail.

Seventy-one per cent agreed that classifying abortion as a crime “contributes to the distress and stigma felt by women who have had abortions” and 45% supported a woman’s right to choose for non-medical reasons.

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Case seeks to legalise abortion in cases of rape, incest and “serious malformation”

Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation contravenes article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights which states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Belfast High Court has been told.
Nathalie Lieven QC made the comment in front of Mr Justice Mark Horner, who is hearing a case where the North’s Human Rights Commission is seeking to make abortion legal in instances of rape, incest and “serious malformation of the foetus”.
The court also heard yesterday that all countries in Europe apart from Ireland North and South, San Marino, Malta and Andorra allow abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.
Ms Lieven, for the commission, said the issue of abortion in relation to these categories could not be left to the Northern Executive on the basis that it might act to legislate at some undefined date in the future.
The case is expected to last three or four days. Mr Justice Horner is hearing submissions from campaigners representing both sides of the abortion argument with the North’s Attorney General, John Larkin QC, also expected to make an oral submission.
Abortion is currently legal in Northern Ireland where there is a threat to the life of the woman or where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent.
Following a consultation, the North’s Department of Justice has recommended that abortion be permitted in Northern Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, but this proposed change does not apply to cases of rape and incest.

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We’ve broken the law – prosecute us, over 200 abortion activists challenge police

More than 200 abortion activists have issued an extraordinary challenge to the justice system by declaring that they have broken the criminal law on assisting an abortion in Northern Ireland.
The 215 named individuals, the overwhelming number of whom are women, said they were “inviting prosecution” about would begin to hand themselves in at police stations in response to an exceptionally rare court case which began last week in Belfast.

On Friday, a woman in her 30s went on trial at Belfast’s Magistrates’ Court on two charges of unlawfully procuring drugs used to end a pregnancy.
She cannot be named for legal reasons, in order to protect her daughter’s identity.
The court was told that the alleged offences of procuring a poison or other noxious substance knowing that ti was to be used with the intention of securing a miscarriage occurred in 2013.
The court was told by a prosecution lawyer said the case involved the alleged injured party’s mother. The judge confirmed that the defendant was being returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court.

Now a group of activists have used the case to issue a challenge which has the potential to decide whether widespread access to abortion is, at least in a de facto sense, legal in Northern Ireland.

Each of the individuals who have signed the open letter released to the media have admitted a criminal offence which in Northern Ireland carries a sentence of up to five years.

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How long can Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws survive?

In Belfast, a mother is being prosecuted for giving her daughter abortion pills to induce a miscarriage, pills which are illegal under abortion laws in Northern Ireland. As a result, over 200 women in Northern Ireland have signed an open letter from the campaign group Alliance for Choice to the Public Prosecution Service asking them to “arrest” them for using or providing illegal abortion pills. Over 200 women who are fed up with their bodily autonomy being toyed with, controlled and owned by male dominated governments.
As a recent Amnesty report put it, the laws in Northern Ireland are “draconian” and women there are being treated like “child-bearing vessels”. Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird lives in Northern Ireland and signed the Alliance for Choice petition. When I spoke to her, she said: “Whether you want to call us vessels or incubators, that’s how we’re seen in the eyes of the state. The problem is that it’s such a controversial topic that the state don’t want to touch. Everyone knows the pills are coming in. It’s all over the internet. There are Facebook pages regularly sharing information telling women if they need an abortion, where they can get it and if they’re past the mark to go to the Abortion Support Network if they can’t afford to travel.” Access to abortion as Emma Campbell, the Vice-chair of Alliance of Choice said, is very much to do with class: “You can get an abortion if you have money, a credit card and the ability to travel. If not, you don’t really have a choice because abortions are only allowed in limited circumstances.”

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