WHO updates fact sheet on Preventing Unsafe Abortion (28 July 2015)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated the fact sheet on Preventing Unsafe Abortion.

Background Information

Unsafe abortion occurs when a pregnancy is terminated

  • either by persons lacking the necessary skills,
  • or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards,
  • or both

Medical abortion is performed using drugs alone.

Surgical abortion is performed with a manual or electrical aspirator.

Key Messages:

An estimated 22 million unsafe abortions take place each year, almost entirely in developing countries.

Around 5 million women are hospitalized as a result of unsafe abortions each year.

Of the women who develop complications following unsafe abortion, more than 3 million women do not receive care.

In 2008, there were an estimated 47,000 deaths due to unsafe abortions, with almost 2/3rds occurring in Africa.

Women and adolescents with unwanted pregnancies resort to unsafe abortion when they cannot access safe abortion. Barriers to accessing safe abortion include:

  • Restrictive laws
  • Poor availability of services
  • High cost
  • Stigma
  • Conscientious objection of health-care providers
  • Unnecessary requirements that delay care

Complications of unsafe abortions include:

  • Incomplete abortion (failure to remove/ expel all of the pregnancy tissue from the uterus)
  • Haemorrhage (heavy bleeding)
  • Infection
  • Uterine perforation (caused when the uterus is pierced by a sharp object
  • Damage to the genital tract and internal organs by inserting dangerous objects such as sticks, knitting needles, broken glass into the vagina or anus.
  • Death due to one or more complications

Unsafe abortion can be prevented through

  • Good sexual education
  • Prevention of unintended pregnancy through use of effective contraception, including emergency contraception, and
  • Provision of safe, legal abortion


Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to the Clinical Practice Handbook for Safe Abortion:


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