Abortion rates plunge in developed world, stay stagnant elsewhere

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Abortion rates dropped steeply over the course of 25 years in countries like the U.S., new research shows, though the same trend did not occur in still-developing nations.

A study published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet measured abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014, finding that the number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in developed countries dropped from 46 to 27 over the time frame, while in developing countries it dropped from 39 to just 37.

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The annual number of abortions worldwide over the period rose by almost 6 million to 56.3 milllion – an increase researchers attributed to growth of the global population. The overall abortion rate for 2010-2014 was 35 per 1,000 women – down from 40 per 1,000 women two and a half decades ago.

Researchers also found that during the last five years evaluated, unmarried women were less likely to have an abortion than married women. Roughly 73 percent of abortions were obtained by married women.

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Abortion rates plunge in developed world, stay stagnant elsewhere
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: Girl holds up hand-lettered sign in front of Planned Parenthood. A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: Assembly of some 150 anti-abortion protesters behind barricade in front of Planned Parenthood. A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: Adrienne Luendo (rt) of Stop Patriarchy debates with anti-abortion protesters. A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
AKRON, OH- SEPTEMBER 8: Donald Wilson, 64, protests against abortion in front of the Planned Parenthood Health Center on September 8, 2015 in Akron, OH. (Photo by Mary F. Calvert For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
TINLEY PARK, IL - JULY 31: Stages of a fetus are displayed at the Illinois Right To Life a table while Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks at the Freedom's Journal Institute for the Study of Faith and Public Policy 2015 Rise Initiative on July 31, 2015 in Tinley Park, Illinois. The event was billed as a 'frank discussion on defending the sanctity of life from conception to natural death'. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson attends a anti-abortion rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Planned Parenthood faces mounting criticism amid the release of videos by a pro-life group and demands to vote in the Senate to stop funding. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a Anti-abortion rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Planned Parenthood faces mounting criticism amid the release of videos by a pro-life group and demands to vote in the Senate to stop funding. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Anti-abortion activists hold a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
A pro-choice activists holds a placard in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, January 22, 2015, as she and others await the pro-choice activists with the March For Life. Tens of thousands of Americans who oppose abortion are in Washington for the annual March for Life, marking the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion activists take part in the annual March for Life rally on January 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-choice activists block the road as US Capitol Police escort the March For Life's front of the US Supreme Court (rear) in Washington, DC, on January 22, 2015. Tens of thousands of Americans who oppose abortion are in Washington for the annual March for Life, marking the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Razor grass and pro-choice signs limit the view of patients entering the Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Mississippi's only abortion clinic will likely remain open at least until the fall, because the U.S. Supreme Court is taking no action until then on a dispute over a state law that could close it. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo, college students and abortion rights activists hold signs during a rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas. The Supreme Court refused on Monday, June 29, 2015, to allow Texas to enforce restrictions that would force 10 abortion clinics to close. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
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The World Health Organization and the Guttmatcher Institute – a U.S. research and policy organization that supports abortion rights – partnered on the study.

In a statement, the study's lead author, Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute, said the trends show that women in regions that saw a decline in abortion rates have greater access to contraception.

"Our findings indicate that in many developing regions, women lack the contraceptive services they need and are unable to prevent pregnancies they do not want to have," Sedgh said.

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When countries were grouped according to their abortion laws, researchers found no significant difference in recent abortion rates between countries where the procedure was legal and where it was restricted.

Where abortion was illegal or permitted only to save a woman's life, the rate was 37 per 1,000. Where it was available on request, the abortion rate was 34 per 1,000.

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