The abortion controversy

Abortion supporters
Abortion supporters (Photo credit: Derek French)

Since the recent US Supreme Court overturning of the Roe V. Wade 1973 case that outlined the constitutional right to abortion to the non-existence of the action, but there are some medical facts to abortion. In accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO), abortion is a medical procedure that ends a pregnancy. Worldwide, it is estimated that one in four pregnancies end in an abortion every year.

While there are continuous debates about abortion, WHO notes that it is “safe when carried out using a method recommended by the health agency appropriate to the pregnancy duration and by someone with the necessary skills”. Data suggests that six out of 10 of all unintended pregnancies end in an induced abortion. Around 45 per cent of all abortions are unsafe, of which 97 per cent take place in developing countries.

Unsafe abortion is a leading – but preventable – cause of maternal deaths and morbidities. It can lead to physical and mental health complications and social and financial burdens for women, communities and health systems. Lack of access to safe, timely, affordable and respectful abortion care is a critical public health and human rights issue. Statistics show that around 73 million induced abortions take place worldwide each year.

Each year, 4.7–13.2 per cent of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion. In developed regions, it is estimated that 30 women die for every 100 000 unsafe abortions. In developing regions, that number rises to 220 deaths per 100 000 unsafe abortions. Estimates from 2012 indicate that in developing countries alone, seven million women per year were treated in hospital facilities for complications of unsafe abortion.

Some of the physical health complications that come with abortion as documented by WHO include incomplete abortion (failure to remove or expel all pregnancy tissue from the uterus); hemorrhage (heavy bleeding); infection; uterine perforation (caused when the uterus is pierced by a sharp object); and damage to the genital tract and internal organs as a consequence of inserting dangerous objects into the vagina or anus.

Restrictive abortion regulation can cause distress and stigma, and risk constituting a violation of human rights of women and girls, including the right to privacy and the right to non-discrimination and equality, while also imposing financial burdens on women and girls. Regulations that force women to travel to attain legal care, or require mandatory counselling or waiting periods, lead to loss of income and other financial costs, and can make abortion inaccessible to women with low resources. In Jamaica, the existing law declares the act of abortion to be a felony although the law is rarely, if ever, enforced. A pregnant woman who seeks abortion and anyone helping her to obtain one is subjected to prosecution. Many doctors are unwilling to face the possibility of legal confrontation.

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