This section gives information about your rights to good education and services, and where to go for further help or advice.
Unsafe abortion is abortion that is unhygienic, is carried out by untrained practictioners, uses inappropriate methods, or is where healthcare systems cannot provide adequate care.
Unsafe abortion exists in areas where abortion is illegal (as in many African, Middle Eastern, Asian and South American countries) and in countries in which abortion is legal, but there is not adequate provision of services (for example India).
Many illegal abortions are carried out using primitive surgical methods: injecting poisonous solutions into the womb or inserting objects intended to dislodge the fetus. These kinds of abortions are referred to as backstreet abortions because they are often carried out by someone with no training, in an unhygienic environment, in conditions of great secrecy.
Methods of self-induced abortion include the taking of abortificients – herbal remedies or poisons intended to induce a miscarriage. Some of these methods are harmless, but also ineffectual. Others work more effectively, but can be extremely dangerous to the woman.
Some people resort to inflicting physical abuse (falling down stairs, blows to belly, jumping from heights) when they cannot find any other way in which to end an unwanted pregnancy. This is extremely risky for the woman and is often not effective in ending the pregnancy.
Before the 1967 Abortion Act was passed most women who wanted to end their pregnancies would have had to resort to self-induced or backstreet abortions.
Accurate figures for women injured by illegal abortion before 1967 are not available, as many women would not admit that their injuries resulted from abortion for fear of incriminating themselves and the illegal abortionist. In 1959, however, it was estimated by a parliamentary committee that the treatment of abortion accounted for as many as 20% of gynaelogical admissions withing the NHS. In 1966 the Home Office estimated that 100,000 abortions were being carried out each year. Other estimates put this figure at 150,000.
Widespread injury and infection often led to infertility and other permanent health problems, and death by septicaemia (blood poisoning) or haemorrhage (bleeding) was not uncommon. In 1966 up to 40 women a year in the UK died from the complications of unsafe abortion.
Every year, approximately 50 million unwanted pregnancies end in abortion. 55,000 abortions a day, over 20 million a year, are unsafe.
The World Health Organisation estimates that unsafe abortions cause the deaths of at least 200 women each day, over 70,000 women each year, yet it is ‘one of the most easily preventable and treatable causes of maternal mortality.’ (WHO Safe Motherhood Conference, 1998.)
The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo stated that, ‘In circumstances in which abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe. In all cases, women should have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion.’
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