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Report claiming rise in ‘unsafe’ abortions worldwide is disputed

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva (AP)

A British pro-life group has said that new claims that the number of “unsafe” abortions has risen worldwide are “dubious”.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) criticised a report, published today in The Lancet, which claims that the number of abortions that put the mother’s health at risk has risen by five per cent.

The claim came in a study by researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organsation (WHO), and has been seized on by pro-abortion campaigners calling for easier access to abortion.

Dr Richard Horton, the Lancet’s editor, said: “These latest figures are deeply disturbing. The progress made in the 1990s is now in reverse. Condemning, stigmatising and criminalising abortion are cruel and failed strategies.”

But John Smeaton, director of SPUC, said: “The WHO routinely makes unsubstantiated claims about so-called ‘unsafe’ or illegal abortion. It is one of the world’s major pro-abortion bodies. The Guttmacher Institute is the research arm of the worldwide pro-abortion lobby. The report is pro-abortion propaganda, and should be dismissed as such.

“Promoters of legal abortion have a proven track-record of making wildly exaggerated claims about the number of so-called ‘unsafe’ or illegal abortions. Such false claims were made in 1967 to lobby for the UK’s Abortion Act and in the 1970s to justify the US’s Roe v Wade decision. The late Dr Bernard Nathanson, the US abortion pioneer who became pro-life, admitted that he deliberately exaggerated the estimated number of illegal abortions five-fold when campaigning for abortion legalisation.

“The truth is that countries with strict laws against abortion have lower maternal death rates than countries which allow abortion widely. Ireland, where abortion is banned, has one of the world’s best maternal health records. Legalised abortion does nothing to improve medical care.”

In October 2009 the Guttmacher Institute claimed that “unsafe” abortions killed 70,000 women a year and that the abortion rate was roughly equal in regions where it was legal and where it was illegal. The figures were widely disputed.

In its 2007 report, Unsafe Abortion, the WHO conceded: “Where induced abortion is restricted and largely inaccessible, or legal but difficult to obtain, little information is available on abortion practice. In such circumstances, it is difficult to quantify and classify abortion. What information is available is inevitably not completely relaible.”

The United Nations population division calls the estimates “quite speculative since hard data are missing for the large majority of countries”.