The Prime Minister of Ireland recently announced that he will be campaigning to end the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland. Ireland is the only country in the European Union that does not allow abortion in any form and is the only developed country in the world that does not allow abortion.
Should he be successful, Ireland will join the 133 three other countries worldwide where abortion services can be legally obtained. It is currently one of 65 other countries where abortion is illegal.
Today, abortion is a safe and minimally invasive procedure. There is more recovery time involved in having an appendix removed than having an abortion. And yet, abortion continues to be a fiercely debated topic in the United States and around the world despite the fact that countries with access to safe abortion services have higher levels of reproductive health.
Decades of global health health research have demonstrated that countries in which abortion is legal have better health outcomes for women than in countries where it is outlawed.
As any pro-choice advocate will tell you, restricting access to abortion does not stop abortions from happening, it stops safe abortions from happening. Marie Stopes International reports that, every year, 21.6 million unsafe abortions occur with 8 million of those resulting in disability or severe complications. Every year, 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions. In countries where abortion is illegal, unsafe abortions happen at a rate four times higher in countries where abortion is legal. Though abortion rates might be lower in countries where it is illegal, it is still happening and it’s happening unsafely.
Abortion reduces teen pregnancy
Additionally, adolescent fertility rates are lower in countries where abortion is legal. Adolescent fertility rates are three times higher in countries without access to abortion services compared to countries where they are accessible. Every year, 21 million girls ages 15-19 and 2 million girls under the age of 15 become pregnant, the majority of these pregnancies occur in developing countries where abortion is illegal. Complications due to childbirth and pregnancy are the leading cause of death for 15-19 year-old girls globally.
Maternal mortality increases with legal abortion
Finally, countries where abortion is illegal have a three times higher rate of maternal mortality. The good news is that maternal mortality rates dropped by almost half between 1990 and 2015 but complications during pregnancy and childbirth still result in about 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. In countries where abortion is legal and easy to access, that rate drops to about 77 deaths per 100,000 live births. The Sustainable Development Goals have established a goal of reducing global maternal mortality to 70 deaths per 100,000 births. Legalizing abortion may be one way to achieve this goal.
Abortion is a complicated issue and women’s health is not usually the driving factor of this controversy, but that does not mean that women’s health should not be at the top of the agenda when considering abortion legality.
In May, Ireland will be holding a referendum on the issue of abortion that could reverse the 1983 amendment that was signed into law after a referendum vote. Though the vote will be a close one, a recent Irish Times poll showed 56% of people voting to change the law. This would be a positive step forward for women’s health in Ireland, a country that has been deeply divided on the issue since the Prime Minister’s announcement.