Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures if done in a legal setting and using established standards of care. The risk of death associated with safe and legal abortion is extremely low, ranging from about 1 to 6 deaths for every million abortions in developed countries. In fact, you are 10-14 times more likely to die giving birth than by having an abortion. Further, the risk of major complications from a first trimester abortion is 0.05 percent, and the overall rate of complications, both minor and major, is about 2-3%.
Abortions can be safely performed in standalone clinics, which multiple studies have confirmed are highly regulated and very safe. Many other outpatient procedures that don’t require hospital admission are statistically much riskier. You are 40 times more likely to die from a colonoscopy than from an abortion, for instance.
Abortion is only dangerous if done under illegal conditions, for several reasons: it is frequently done later in pregnancy, by an untrained person or by the woman herself, under unhygienic conditions, with improper equipment or substances, and without medical supervision or follow-up. Developing countries with strict abortion bans, such as in much of Africa, have the highest maternal mortality rates from unsafe abortion. Worldwide, the proportion of maternal mortality from unsafe, mostly illegal, abortion is 8 – 18% – between 22,500 and 44,000 deaths per year. (Differing numbers arise from separate estimates.) Virtually all would be preventable if abortion was legal, safe, and accessible. In addition, over 7 million women are left injured. With about 22 million unsafe abortions a year, that means a third of women resorting to unsafe abortion suffer complications, compared to under 3% in developed countries.
World Health Organization, Unsafe Abortion (2011)
Guttmacher Institute, Unsafe Abortion: The Missing Link in Global Efforts to Improve Maternal Health (2011)
Guttmacher Institute, Induced Abortion Worldwide (2016)
International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. (Berer Blog). A call for consensus and cooperation to resolve differing estimates of abortion-related deaths (2016)