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Unsafe abortion and abortion-related death among 1.8 million women in India
  1. Ryo Yokoe1,
  2. Rachel Rowe2,
  3. Saswati Sanyal Choudhury3,
  4. Anjali Rani4,
  5. Farzana Zahir5,
  6. Manisha Nair2
  1. 1Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2NPEU, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  3. 3Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, Guwahati, India
  4. 4Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India
  5. 5Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Assam Medical College, Dibrugarh, India
  1. Correspondence to Dr Manisha Nair; manisha.nair{at}


Introduction Unsafe abortion is a preventable cause of maternal mortality. While studies report high number of abortions in India, the population-level rates of unsafe abortion and their risk factors are not well understood. Our objective was to analyse the rates of and risk factors for unsafe abortion and abortion-related maternal death in India.

Methods We conducted a secondary analysis of data from 1 876 462 pregnant women aged 15–58 years from nine states in the Indian Annual Health Survey (2010–2013). We calculated the rate of unsafe abortion and abortion-related mortality with 95% CI. Multivariable logistic regression models examined the associations of sociodemographic characteristics, health seeking behaviours and family planning with unsafe abortion and abortion-related mortality.

Results There were 89 447 abortions among 1 876 462 pregnant women in 2007–2011 (4.8%; 95% CI 4.8 to 4.9). Of these, 58 266 were classified as unsafe (67.1%; 95% CI 66.7 to 67.5). There were 253 abortion-related maternal deaths (0.3%; 95% CI 0.2 to 0.3). Factors associated with unsafe abortion: maternal age 20–24 years (adjusted OR (aOR): 1.13; 95% CI 1.09 to 1.18), illiteracy (aOR: 1.48; 95% CI 1.39 to 1.59), rural residence (aOR: 1.26; 95% CI 1.21 to 1.32), Muslim religion (aOR: 1.16; 95% CI 1.12 to 1.22), Schedule caste social group (aOR: 1.08; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.12), poorest asset quintile (aOR: 1.45; 95% CI 1.38 to 1.53), antenatal care (aOR: 0.69; 95% CI 0.67 to 0.72), no surviving children (aOR: 1.30; 95% CI 1.16 to 1.46), all surviving children being female (aOR: 1.12; 95% CI 1.07 to 1.17), use of family planning methods (aOR: 0.69; 95% CI 0.66 to 0.71). Factors associated with abortion-related deaths: maternal age 15–19 (aOR: 7.79; 95% CI 2.73 to 22.23), rural residence (aOR: 3.28; 95% CI 1.76 to 6.11), Schedule tribe social group (aOR: 4.06; 95% CI 1.39 to 11.87).

Conclusion Despite abortion being legal, the high estimated prevalence of unsafe abortion demonstrates a major public health problem in India. Socioeconomic vulnerability and inadequate access to healthcare services combine to leave large numbers of women at risk of unsafe abortion and abortion-related death.

  • abortion
  • unsafe
  • rates
  • risk factors
  • India

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  • Handling editor Seye Abimbola

  • Contributors RY reviewed the literature, conducted the analysis and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. MN led the conceptualisation of the project, compiled the data, supervised the data analysis, interpretation and discussion of the results, and edited the paper. RR supervised the data analysis, interpretation and discussion of the results, and edited the paper. SSC, FZ and AR contributed to interpreting the data, and editing the paper.

  • Funding The study was funded by a Medical Research Council Career Development Award to Manisha Nair (Grant Ref: MR/P022030/1). The funder had no role in the study design, data analysis, data interpretation, or writing of the report. MN had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The anonymised data are freely available through the Indian Government’s Data Sharing Portal.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data are available in a public, open access repository.