As we delve deeper into collecting, researching, and understanding abortion data, it becomes increasingly evident that not every research will be similar. In other words, the research for each country will be unique, influenced by factors such as legal restrictions on abortion, the data systems in place, the healthcare system and its data collection methods, and the prevailing abortion stigma in the country. While in some countries, like Germany, it is possible to find a robust dataset regarding abortion, in others, such as Egypt, it can be a struggle to find updated numbers or information on almost every aspect related to abortion.
The disparities in access to abortion data not only affect our research but also contribute to imbalances in understanding the needs of abortion seekers and providers. The lack of data creates a situation where individuals obtain abortion information from non-evidence-based sources, and myths dominate the central debates and narratives surrounding abortion. In this manner, unsafe abortion methods, a lack of healthcare regulations that respond to their needs, and discriminatory legal regulations expose the most vulnerable abortion seekers.
Currently, the majority of women of reproductive age reside in countries where abortion is legally restricted, with most of them living in low- and middle-income countries. Official abortion data in these countries is rare, and much of the available data is from women’s surveys or academic papers; this implies that many women live in settings where abortion data is not easily accessible and may not accurately reflect the reality of abortion due to legal restrictions and potential stigma—resulting in the fact that most women of reproductive age and their health care need are not being considered when public health care decisions are taken based on scientific evidence.
The Abortion Data Gap: A Predominant Challenge in the Global South
The absence of abortion data presents a current challenge for public health and a comprehensive understanding of sexual and reproductive health worldwide. However, this challenge is notably more pronounced in the Global South:
- Sub-Saharan Africa (50 countries) only has 123 registered studies on abortion.
- West Asia and North Africa (25 countries) only have 253 documented studies on abortion.
- Central and South Asia (14 countries) only have 250 reported studies on abortion.
- Latin America (38 countries) only has 261 registered studies on abortion.
In contrast, Europe and North America boast a significantly higher number of 2011 registered studies.
A lack of resources for data collection, weaker healthcare systems, legal restrictions, and abortion stigma are all connected to these disparities. Additionally, these disparities are associated with higher numbers of unsafe abortions and maternal deaths.
Some Challenges of Abortion Data Collection
- Lack of investment in abortion data collection and research: Collecting abortion data requires effort, work, and innovation. Additionally, all of that is only possible if enough resources support it.
- Abortion stigma: Stigma consistently is a barrier when collecting abortion data, as individuals may not feel comfortable sharing their abortion experiences and might keep it secret due to the fear of social or legal repercussions.
- Lack of feminist research methods to collect abortion data: The lack of knowledge regarding feminist approaches when collecting data on abortion is a critical barrier to tackle. It is crucial to consider gender-based differences and social context when collecting data in a way that builds trust and respects the people who are willing to collaborate.
- Abortion restrictions: Legal restrictions on abortion lead to underreporting, as people are afraid of legal consequences.
Although there are significant challenges to overcome in collecting sufficient abortion data worldwide, some countries have successfully addressed these challenges by investing in their healthcare systems, establishing national data collections, and avoiding abortion restrictions. Thus, it is crucial to address these barriers to close the abortion data gap actively. It can be done through feminist-innovative ways to collect data, collect existent studies, and advocate for abortion data.
Building Bridges with Abortion Data
At AbortionData, we believe in the power of data to change abortion discourses, as informed discussions rooted in data can reshape perspectives, challenge stigma, and lead to policies that prioritize reproductive rights. Accessible and comprehensive abortion data can be a catalyst for meaningful change.
The decision to work with abortion data is not always easy, but it is worthwhile when we understand data as the core of change and activism. The lack of abortion data is a challenge and opportunity for us to advocate for more comprehensive and feminist methods of research and data collection, as well as an opportunity to support data that represent most of the people and serve to close data gaps and gaps of inequalities that reproduce the power relationship between the global north and global south.
Today, we invite you to participate in this revolution, being an active part of our collective donating to transform Transforming Abortion Conversations on Giving Tuesday. If you want to donate, or if you would like to be an ambassador of our campaign, join us.
 Popinchalk, A ; Beavin, C; Bearak, J. (2021) The state of global abortion data: an overview and call to action. Guttmacher Institute.