LONDON Oct 12 Two studies published on Friday show abortions are declining worldwide due to wider use of birth control practices and that the rate of pregnancy-related deaths is not shrinking quickly enough to meet global targets.
The number of abortions annually fell to under 42 million from 46 million between 1995 and 2003, with rates decreasing most significantly in Eastern Europe, said the report from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organisation.
The number of abortions fell most in developed countries where it is legal compared to poorer countries where it is largely banned and considered unsafe, the researchers said.
Western Europe had the lowest abortion rate in the world in 2003 at 12 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, the study said citing broad use of birth control methods as a reason. The rate was 17 for Northern Europe and 21 for North America.
Asia, which accounts for the biggest part of the world's population, had the highest number of abortions -- about 26 million in 2003. China accounted for about 9 million.
The report said an estimated 20 million unsafe abortions occurred in 2003, 97 percent of them in developing regions and places where the procedure is banned.
"Each year, about 70,000 women die due to unsafe abortion and an additional five million suffer permanent or temporary disability," Paul Van Look, director of the WHO's department of reproductive health and research, said in a statement.
The Lancet medical journal published the two studies as part of a series aiming to focus attention on the health of women, mothers and babies around the world.
The second study showed pregnancy-related deaths were falling but not at a fast enough pace to meet the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals aimed at reducing the number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth by three quarters by 2015.
Using figures from the WHO, the World Bank and other non-governmental organisations, the report showed an annual decline of less than 1 percent between 1990 and 2005, far below the 5.5 percent rate needed to meet the Millennium goals.
"To achieve (the) targets by 2015 will need a huge and urgent emphasis on improved pregnancy and delivery care throughout the developing world," the report said.
The researchers estimated there were more than 535,000 pregnancy-related deaths in 2005, nearly all in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
The figures in individual countries varied from a low of one maternal death per 100,000 live births in Ireland to a high of 2,100 deaths per 100,000 births in Sierra Leone, the study said.
"The huge difference in risk dwarfs differences for other commonly used health indicators, such as the infant mortality rate, and makes it likely that effective interventions to reduce maternal mortality exist but are not being widely implemented," the researchers said.