Sexual and reproductive health

Understanding unsafe abortion

image of makeshift and unsanitary traditional doctor consulting space
Photo: R. Johnson, WHO
98% of unsafe abortions take place in developing countries

The World Health Organization defines unsafe abortion as a procedure for terminating a pregnancy performed by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment not in conformity with minimal medical standards, or both. Although widely used, this definition is inconsistently interpreted. In this new article published in WHO’s Bulletin we discuss its correct interpretation and operationalization.

Ensuring evidence-based safe abortion care

The Department of Reproductive Health and Research is pleased to announce online availability of the Clinical practice handbook for safe abortion care, a practical tool for health professionals. This handbook was developed as a companion to the 2nd edition of WHO’s Safe abortion: technical and policy guidance for health systems, published in 2012. Whereas the safe abortion guidance offers a comprehensive blueprint for eliminating unsafe abortion, the clinical practice handbook summarizes key clinical recommendations to enable evidence-based decision-making with respect to safe abortion care.

Expanding access to medical abortion in developing countries

Recognizing the important role that medical abortion can play in women's reproductive health, the WHO launched a research initiative to explore barriers to its use and to develop ways to overcome these barriers and expand its availability. Research designs were tailored to the local contexts where the studies were conducted and allowed researchers flexibility in their choices of research methods.

Pre-procedure use of misoprostol reduces complications of early surgical abortion

Health worker and patient, Vietnam.
Copyright IPAS (Vietnam)

Findings from a study by HRP and partners show that women who have their cervixes dilated with misoprostol in preparation for early surgical abortion have a significantly lower overall risk of a complication from the procedure than those receiving placebo. The decrease in complications was primarily that of incomplete abortion, but there was also a reduction in unscheduled clinic visits and hospital admissions after the procedure. When induced abortion is performed by qualified persons using correct techniques and in sanitary conditions complications are rare.


The UNDP/UNICEF/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP) conducts and supports research to map and generate policy relevant evidence, tests interventions and their impact, and improves technologies for safe abortion and post-abortion care.