A new study has found that 70% of unintended pregnancies end in abortion in countries where it is broadly legal, while in countries where abortion is restricted, this happens only in 50% of the cases.
A new multi-authored study published by The Lancet medical journal investigated the occurrence of abortion in unintended pregnancies world-wide. Unintended was defined as pregnancies that occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted.

The researchers developed a new statistical model that jointly estimates unintended pregnancies and abortion.

It should be highlighted that four of the eight authors of the article are from the Guttmacher Institute, historically associated to the US abortion provider Planned Parenthood. Funding was provided by organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which support abortion.

Nonetheless, the study provides evidence for what pro-life groups has always claimed: more restrictive laws contribute to reduce the incidence of abortion.

The study divides all the countries in the world in two categories: where abortion is restricted and where it is “broadly legal”. By restricted they mean that it is prohibited, permitted to save the life of the woman or to preserve physical and mental health. By broadly legal is intended where abortion is available on request or on broad socio-economic grounds.

Interestingly, Ireland is listed among those countries where abortion is available on request while the United Kingdom is among those where it is permitted on socioeconomic grounds.

Two results are particularly significant: in the period 2015-19, in countries where abortion is broadly legal, the abortion rate per 1,000 women aged 15-49 was 40. The rate was 36 in countries where abortion is restricted.

In that period, 70% of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion in countries where it is broadly legal, while in countries where it is restricted, this happens only in 50% of the cases.

Those two results prove that where more restrictive laws are in place, both the abortion rate and the number of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion are lower, compared to countries with more liberal abortion regimes.

There is no simple cause and effect between legislation and those two rates, as they are determined by a complex number of factors (socioeconomic conditions, quality of the health system, culture, etc.), but the association is clear.

The study also divided countries into three groups, according to their income as calculated by the World Bank, and found that the annual unintended pregnancy rate is 34 per 1,000 women aged 15-39 in high-income countries, 66 in middle-income countries, and 93 in low-income countries

It is not a surprise that unintended pregnancies are inversely proportional to the country income.  Nonetheless, both the abortion rate and the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion is higher in middle-income countries, than in low or high-income countries.

In other words, while there are more unintended pregnancies in poor countries, those pregnancies don’t end in abortion at the same rate as they do in middle-income countries.

The limit of this world-wide studies is that they group dozens of countries that might have one element in common (abortion legislation, in this case) but too many other factors that cannot be taken into consideration.

In the study the authors make some claims that are contradicted by their own results. For instance, they say: “We found no evidence that abortion rates were lower where abortion was restricted”.

In saying this, they refer not to the figures that I have quoted above. Instead, they have to exclude India and China, so that abortion rate in countries where abortion is legal decreases from 40 per 1,000 women to 26 per 1,000 women.

But why should those countries be excluded? Because they “skew” the results and the authors of the study are not happy with that?

In a quite unreasonable explanation they say: “We found that China and India, which comprised 62% of women who were at reproductive age in countries where abortion was broadly legal, skewed the averages in countries was broadly legal. Averaging among all other countries where abortion is broadly legal, abortion rates were higher among countries where abortion was restricted.”

That is quite astonishing. Of course, if you exclude 62% of the population, the results will be different but that is not a good reason to do it. Sample should not be manipulated to achieve a preferred result.

The conclusion remains that this new study – from pro-choice researchers – confirms that abortion rates are lower where abortion is more restricted, unless you want to ignore the two most populated countries in the world.



Dr Angelo Bottone holds a PhD in philosophy. He has published books and articles on John Henry Newman, Paul Ricoeur, Ludwig Wittgenstein, multiculturalism, ethics and politics. He lectures in philosophy at University College Dublin and Dublin Business School