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Abortions in Africa rise despite US aid ban

Stanford University analysis shows the number of abortions in Africa doubled despite the US cutting funding for abortion counselling.  

The number of abortions has increased in African countries where the US heavily cut funding to NGOs providing or counselling women on the procedure, new research suggests.

In the first quantitative study to examine the policy, Stanford University researchers found that the number of women having induced abortions more than doubled between 2001 and 2008 in the African countries most affected by the policy.

The policy was first adopted by President Reagan in 1984, upheld by both Bush administrations and rescinded by Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

"We wanted to see how funding decisions impact health outcomes. We had no idea what the effect would look like, and what we found surprised us: this policy seems to have unintended consequences," said Assistant professor of Medicine, Eran Bendavid, co-author of the study.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where NGOs are often the primary provider of family planning services, the closure of clinics meant women lost access to birth control pills and other modern contraceptives.

The researchers argue that the reduction in the availability of modern contraceptives led women to seek abortions as a form of birth control.

"If women use abortion as a substitute for modern contraceptives, then reductions in birth control supply could lead to an increase in abortions," said Grant Miller, from Stanford Health Policy.

The study of 260 000 women found that the rate of abortion was similar across all 20 African countries when the policy had been rescinded under President Clinton, between 1994 and 2000.

However, when George Bush reinstated the policy in 2001, abortion rates rose over the next seven years where the impact of the policy was most significant. Abortions were 2.5 times more likely in the Bush era.

With few exceptions, abortion is illegal in the countries examined. This means that when a woman has an induced abortion, the procedure is usually unsafe and sometimes fatal.

"Regardless of one's view about abortion, this analysis shows that the stakes in this issue transcend political ideology.  Effective foreign policy must now consider the implications for maternal health in places where abortion is unsafe," said Bendavid. - Stanford University

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