The lottery of birth
The lottery of birth

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The lottery of birth

2.2.4 Contraception and abortion worldwide

Forms of contraception and abortion have been used for thousands of years.

There is a long history of religions and states prohibiting either or both. Particular religions and many nation states have struggled to accept a fundamental shift in how men and women view sex that is contained within the availability of modern contraception. Now, in many parts of the world, contraception and abortion are provided within reproductive health services rather than debated as a moral decision.

A range of modern contraceptives are available and safe abortion procedures are used by millions of women. Almost every religion and society continues to deal with contraception and abortion controversies but as you will see in the graphs below, both contraception choices and abortion rights remain dependent on where you live.

World contraception use

Nine out of every ten contraceptive users in the world rely on modern methods of contraception. But that still leaves 225 million women who are still not able to choose to use modern contraceptive methods ( The map below shows the percentages of women using modern methods of contraception. You’ll notice that the lowest levels occur in developing countries, mainly in Africa, and poorer countries of Eastern Europe.

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Figure 11 Percentage of women using a modern method of contraception among those aged 15–49 who are married or in a union: most recent data available.

Many women’s needs for contraception are just not being met in many parts of the world. The percentage of women using a modern contraceptive method varies from as low as 4 per cent in South Sudan to 88 per cent in Norway. You may also have noticed that this data describes only women who are married or in a union. Women who are neither are likely to have unmet contraceptive needs that may in fact be higher than these collected and published figures.

The graph below shows countries by the percentage of women with unmet family planning needs. Unmet family planning needs are likely to describe access to contraceptives but girls and women also need knowledge of what is available, information on how it works and an understanding of how to use it. You’ll notice that countries with the highest levels are developing countries. In fact, one out of every five women with an unmet need for modern methods of contraception live in developing regions.

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Figure 12 Percentage of women using a modern method of contraception among those aged 15–49 who are married or in a union: most recent data available. Source: World Contraceptive Use 2015

The map below shows how funding for family planning programmes changed between 2000 and 2010. It’s encouraging to see funding increasing in developing countries. These are the same countries highlighted in the map above where there were unmet needs which is even more encouraging.

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Figure 13 Percentage of women with an unmet need for family planning (any method) among those aged 15–49 who are married or in a union: most recent data available. Source: World Contraceptive Use 2015.

So there remains a huge difference in people’s ability to make decisions that affect their lives. For example, Mexico is an emerging world power with a newly industrialised economy and a population of 118 million, 83 per cent of whom, according to the latest census, are Catholic and it has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. Both the pro-choice and the anti-choice campaigners claim their argument is based on human rights. You can read more in the article from the Guardian Mexican women pay high price for country’s rigid abortion laws.

In the next section, you'll consider more about the rights and responsibilities surrounding abortion.


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