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Outlawing abortions may do little

LONDON — Women are just as likely to get an abortion in countries where it is outlawed as they are in countries where it is legal, according to research published today.

In a study examining abortion trends from 1995 to 2003, experts also found that abortion rates are virtually equal in rich and poor countries and that half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe.

The study was done by Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute in the United States and colleagues from the World Health Organization. It was published in an edition of The Lancet medical journal devoted to maternal health.

"The legal status of abortion has never dissuaded women and couples, who, for whatever reason, seek to end pregnancy," Beth Fredrick of the International Women's Health Coalition in the United States said in an accompanying commentary.

Abortion accounts for 13 percent of maternal mortality worldwide. About 70,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions. An additional 5 million women suffer permanent or temporary injury.

"The continuing high incidence of unsafe abortion in developing countries represents a public health crisis and a human rights atrocity," Fredrick wrote.

The number of worldwide abortions has dipped from about 46 million in 1995 to just under 42 million in 2003. But there was no change in the rate of unsafe abortions; nearly half the procedures are still performed illegally in potentially dangerous conditions.