April 27, 2018 / 2:48 PM / 7 months ago

Abortion debate rages on 50 years after UK legalization

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Abortion has been legal in Britain for 50 years, but the fight to control a woman’s womb remains a political battlefield.

Though abortion for pregnancies up to 24 weeks became legal in 1968, the volume and ferocity of anti-abortion protests have been increasing, women’s rights campaigners say.

In the first case of its kind in Britain, London’s Ealing council voted this month voted to block protesters from standing within 100 meters (330 feet) of a Marie Stopes clinic after clashes between pro- and anti-abortion campaigners.

The creation of a buffer zone around a London abortion clinic to prevent patients being harassed could pave the way for other English cities to follow suit, campaigners said.

Meanwhile, Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 on liberalizing its abortion law, the first opportunity in 35 years to overhaul one of the world’s strictest regimes.

Abortion has long divided the once deeply Catholic nation and a complete ban was only lifted five years ago for cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

Camapigners say abortion bans do not stop women having terminations, but do increase the risk that they will resort to dangerous measures to end unwanted pregnancies.

Here are some facts on abortion:

- Worldwide, there were an estimated 56 million abortions each year from 2010-2014, up from 50 million annually during 1990–1994. This was mainly due to population growth.

- An estimated 25 million abortions (45 percent) each year were unsafe.

- At least 22,800 women die from unsafe abortions each year. - The abortion rate has declined markedly in developed regions during the last 25 years. But the rate has remained roughly the same in developing regions.

- Globally, a quarter of all pregnancies ended in abortion in 2010–2014.

- The lowest rates were in Western Europe, North America and Northern Europe - 16, 17 and 18 women per 1,000 respectively.

- Abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is highly restricted and where it is broadly legal.

- Most women who have an abortion do so because of an unintended pregnancy. An estimated 214 million women in developing regions have an unmet need for modern contraception.

- In 2014, the annual estimated cost of providing post-abortion care in developing countries was $232 million. Projections suggest this would drop to $20 million if all abortions were provided safely.

Sources: The Guttmacher Institute, Reuters news agency, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Writing by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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