An estimated 21.6 million unsafe abortions occur yearly, resulting in 47,000 deaths and millions of women left with serious health problems and infertility (Guttmacher Institute, 2012a). More than 95% of abortions in Africa and Latin America are per­formed under unsafe conditions. Desperate to end unwanted pregnancies, women attempt to self-induce abortions by drinking turpentine, bleach, or tea made with live­stock manure. They insert herbal preparations into the vagina or cervix and push a stick, coat hanger, or chicken bone through the cervix into the uterus (Guttmacher Institute, 2008c). Illegal abortionists typically insert a sharp instrument or object into the uterus to induce contractions.

Laws that make abortion illegal do not decrease the incidence of abortion. In fact, higher rates of abortion are found in countries where abortion is illegal, primarily because of the unavailability of contraception. There is a worldwide trend toward legalization of abortion. Since 1997 only three countries—El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Russia—have increased legal restrictions on abortion, and 17 countries have legalized or broadened the grounds for legal abortion during the same period (Guttmacher Institute, 2012a).