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Abortion Worldwide: More than 13 Million

 In my past installments on abortion statistics in Alaska and in the United States, I used the formula of “The public health statistics agency says that X is the leading cause of death among human beings with N deaths. But, if you assume as I do that human life in some sense starts at conception, then abortion is the number one killer of human beings with Y number of abortions in _______.”

For the world as a whole, I can’t offer this formulation. One reason is that I can’t get matching years for leading causes of death versus abortion. The latest statistics on leading causes of death worldwide appear to be the 2002 numbers provided by the World Health Organization. The number of abortions does not seem to be tracked from year to year. My two choices for world abortion numbers appeared to be either 1996 or 2003 as reported by the Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher Institute is a firm supporter of the right to abortion, but I’ve seen their numbers quoted in prolife newsletters, so I’m assuming their statistics on legal abortions are respected. If you know of a better source of worldwide numbers, please leave me a comment.

If I tell you that comparing 2002 deaths with 2003 abortions is good enough, I would tell you that worldwide, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of human beings at 16,704,487. Abortion trails at 13,482,500.

If the year of statistics were the only issue, I’d accept the formulation above even though it doesn’t rhetorically support my case that far more attention needs to be paid to reducing abortion.

But there is another problem for someone wanting to place abortion among the leading causes of death in the world. The numbers are simply underreported. Even the Guttmacher Institute admits as much.

According to the World Health Organizations spreadsheet I link to, there are 192 countries in the world. According to the 2003 abortion article from the Guttmacher Institute, only 60 countries did any abortion reporting at all. So right off the bat, only 60/192 of the countries of the world are reporting, or about 31% of countries. Of these countries, not all reported complete statistics, according to the study authors:

We obtained data for 60 of the 66 countries eligible for inclusion in this study. For 33 of these countries, published or local sources indicated that the statistics included at least 80% of the actual number of legal abortions performed in that year. For 16 countries, local experts determined that the statistics were incomplete; for 11, we were unable to obtain a reliable assessment about the completeness of reporting. Survey-based estimates, while at times superior to government reporting systems, were always assumed to be incomplete because some women do not report their abortions, particularly in face-to-face interviews,5,6 and surveys are subject to sampling error and random variation.

So I feel confident in asserting that the number of abortions reported in 2002 represents an undercount. How much of an undercount depends on at least several factors:

1) How much of the global population lives in the countries covered by Guttmacher? 31% of countries doesn’t mean 31% of population.

2) How much illegal abortion is going on? The article I have only discusses legal abortions.

If someone wants to do the math or find additional statistics from reliable sources, please leave a comment. For now, I’ll just go with over 13 million. As with my previous installments, this is a number that should distress people on either side of the abortion issue. Even if you support abortion rights, the sheer number of abortions seems to be draining away resources that could be used to care for the living and the dying around the world. Additionally, in developing countries each abortion may represent a multi-day journey on foot to see an abortion doctor. Are we not obligated to offer poor women around the world an alternative?

Because this post is already somewhat lengthy, I’m going to do another “state of the world” post next week. That installment will look at reported abortion rates worldwide. We’re about in the middle of the pack. See who’s worse and who might be better.


World Health Organization, Data and Statistics Page at http://www.who.int/research/en/ (Causes of Death 2002, published December 2004).

Legal Abortion Worldwide: Incidence and Recent Trends (As of 2003)- http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3310607.html

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