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CONTEXT: Information on abortion levels and trends can inform research and policies affecting maternal and reproductive health, but the incidence of legal abortion has not been assessed in nearly a decade.

METHODS: Statistics on legal abortions in 2003 were compiled for 60 countries in which the procedure is broadly legal, and trends were assessed where possible. Data sources included published and unpublished reports from official national reporting systems, questionnaires sent to government agencies and nationally representative population surveys. The completeness of country estimates was assessed by officials involved in data collection and by in-country and regional experts.

RESULTS: In recent years, more countries experienced a decline in legal abortion rates than an increase, among those for which statistics are complete and trend data are available. The most dramatic declines were in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where rates remained among the highest in the world. The highest estimated levels were in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, where surveys indicate that women will have close to three abortions each, on average, in their lifetimes. The U.S. abortion rate dropped by 8% between 1996 and 2003, but remained higher than rates in many Northern and Western European countries. Rates increased in the Netherlands and New Zealand. The official abortion rate declined by 21% over seven years in China, which accounted for a third of the world’s legal abortions in 1996. Trends in the abortion rate differed across age-groups in some countries.

CONCLUSIONS: The abortion rate varies widely across the countries in which legal abortion is generally available and has declined in many countries since the mid-1990s.