Public Health and International Perspectives

Abortion is widely available with varying restrictions throughout the industrialized world. In recent years, there also has been a trend toward liberalization of abortion laws in many developing countries, such as in India, where abortion has been legalized; and in Bangladesh, where an early firsttrimester procedure called menstrual regulation (which is really an early suction curettage) has been officially sanctioned by the government even though abortion per se has not been legalized. Abortion laws are most restrictive in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central Asia.

Many of the countries in these regions have high rates of maternal mortality, and complications of illegal abortions are one of its leading causes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 100,000 or more maternal deaths occur each year as a result of complications of an unsafe, usually illegal abortion. Even in the United States, some illegal abortions continue to be performed in cases where women are without the resources to obtain a legal abortion. Although reliable incidence data are lacking as to the number of illegal abortions performed worldwide, there clearly is a strong demand for abortion, a demand that will probably always exist. As evidenced by the estimated number of women who undergo illegal abortion, most women who are determined to terminate a pregnancy will attempt to do so either by themselves or with assistance.

Consequently, the public-health concerns about the complications of unsafe abortion, coupled with the complex issues relating to the reproductive and autonomy rights of women versus the rights of the fetus, suggest the continuing importance that must be given by the field of bioethics to abortion, particularly to the question of whether and by what means abortion should be made available equally to all persons requesting it, regardless of national citizenship, ethnic or racial identity, or economic status.


SEE ALSO: Embryo and Fetus; Fertility Control; Reproductive Technologies; and other Abortion subentries

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