Most abortions are associated with pregnancies that occurred as a result of contraceptive failure—particularly the use of traditional methods such as withdrawal—and pregnancies of women who were not using contraception despite not wanting any (more) children (the “unmet need for family planning” category). In two-thirds of the countries, contraceptive failure accounts for most abortions, while in the other third, unmet need for family planning contributes most of the abortions. A cross-sectional analysis of 18 countries shows a very high negative correlation between abortion and the use of modern contraceptive methods but a moderately high positive correlation between abortion and the use of traditional contraceptive methods.
In a series of simulation models, the implications for further reductions in the prevalence of abortion are estimated. For example, if the women currently using modern methods of contraception were joined by those currently using traditional methods, abortion rates on average could be reduced by 23 percent; if women classified as having unmet need for family planning were also added to this group, abortion rates could be reduced by as much as 55 percent.
The report also examines some of the main covariates of the use of modern contraception and abortion, as well as attitudes toward abortion. Multivariate analyses using a standard set of variables for all countries highlights the importance of age, urban residence, and education. The main conclusions are that there is strong evidence that modern contraceptive methods are replacing abortion as the primary means of family planning. At the same time, there will be continuing if not increasing pressure to avoid unintended pregnancies, which often end in abortion.