Researchers have found that abortion rates in rich countries are at an all-time low, but remained steady for developing countries. The study highlighted the urgent need for wider access to modern contraceptive methods.
The rate of abortions has dropped since 1990 in developed nations, scientists announced on Thursday in the first analysis of global abortion trends since 2008.
Researchers found that per 1,000 women of childbearing age in developed countries, the rate of abortions dropped from 46 to 27 between 1990 and 2014.
However, abortion rates varied only slightly in developing countries, where 90 percent of the world's abortions occur - declining from 29 to 27 per 1,000 women.
The study, conducted jointly by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization, also reported an average of 56 million abortions were performed each year worldwide among women aged 15 to 44.
They also revealed that a majority of abortions - 73 percent - were obtained by married women from 2010 - 2014.
"More women living in countries with the most restrictive abortion laws have an unmet need for contraception - that is, they want to avoid getting pregnant but are not using a method of family planning - than women in countries with more liberal laws, and this adds to the incidence of abortion in countries with restrictive laws," said lead author Gilda Sedgh.
In places where the procedure was completely banned or only permitted to save a woman's life, the rate was 37 abortions per 1,000 women, compared to 34 per 1,000 in countries where it is legal.
"The obvious interpretation is that criminalizing abortion does not prevent it but rather drives women to seek illegal services or methods," wrote Diana Greene Foster of the University of California in San Francisco in an additional commentary.
"Such women face an increased risk of maternal mortality, and bear children that they are not ready to care for and often cannot afford," she added.
Call for contraception
The prevalence of abortions in developing countries also points to a need for better access to contraceptives like birth control pills, implants and IUDs, researchers said.
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"In developing countries, family planning services do not seem to be keeping up with the increasing desire for smaller families," said lead author Gilda Sedgh.
"More than 80 percent of unintended pregnancies are experienced by women with an unmet need for modern methods of contraception, and many unwanted pregnancies end in abortion," she said.
The highest rate of abortions globally was in the Caribbean, with about 65 abortions per 1,000 women. North America had the lowest rate with 17.
However, the largest drop was observed in eastern Europe, where the abortion rate fell by more than half due to wider availability of modern contraception.