The UN reveals a shocking new statistic about abortion around the world
Amidst renewed protests in Ireland over laws banning abortion and growing concern that Poland is heading down the same path, the United Nations dropped a disturbing truth on everyone Tuesday, ahead of Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion on Wednesday. According to the UN, repealing anti-choice laws globally would save 50,000 lives every year. The UN’s latest report reflects 2009 research published by the Review Obstetrics Gynecology journal, which found women in countries where abortion is illegal are 34 percent more likely to die from the procedure than women in countries where it is not.
According to the UN’s research, about 22 million unsafe abortions take place each year around the world, and some 47,000 women die from complications because they had to resort to unsafe practices.
“Restrictive legislation which denies access to safe abortion is one of most damaging ways of instrumentalizing women’s bodies and a grave violation of women’s human rights. The consequences for women are severe, with women sometimes paying with their lives,” wrote the study’s experts, who include Alda Facio, chair-rapporteur of the working group on discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dainius Pûras, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Juan E. Méndez, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It is worth noting that South America has countries with some of the most stringent anti-choice laws in the world, where some countries lack any exceptions to abortion bans at all or countries like Venezuela provide exceptions only in cases of extreme medical risks for the mother, although this provision was not enough to save an 11-year-old girl from being forced to bring a child to term. Anti-choice laws in South America became a renewed point of contention earlier this year, when the region became affected by Zika and many babies were born with severe birth defects.
Ultimately, the UN was not afraid to call out abortion restrictions for what they really are: blatant misogyny. After all, it’s one thing to personally oppose the procedure, and entirely another to subscribe to paternalistic politics that dictate what a woman can and cannot do with her body. “Criminalization of abortion and failure to provide adequate access to services for termination of an unwanted pregnancy are forms of discrimination based on sex,” the study’s authors wrote.
The UN experts continued: “Unwanted pregnancies cannot be totally prevented since no contraceptive method is 100 percent effective, and women may be exposed to sexual violence.”
Today, in America, women who have abortions are typically characterized by the right-wing as young and irresponsible (although, maybe, just maybe, access to contraception or accurate sexual health education would help with that), but around the world, it’s worth noting that the women who are having abortions are disproportionately married with families. All women who wind up with unwanted pregnancies deserve the right to choose, but women mired in poverty who can’t afford to bear more children and have minimal access to contraception certainly contradict the traditional conservative narrative.
Despite abortion bans in various countries around the world, as the UN notes, 22 million unsafe procedures still take place every year, and almost 50,000 women die from them annually. In countries everywhere, including the U.S., outright bans or challenging obstacles placed around having abortions don’t actually mitigate them. They just make things exponentially more dangerous for women by forcing them to travel to different states, have later term abortions (which are still exceedingly safe but obviously not ideal), or attempt self-induced abortions, Guttmacher researchers found.
All in all, what the United Nations’ latest report on abortion reveals is that abortion can no longer be treated as a petty political dialogue: ignoring reality is costing 47,000 women their lives every year.