More than one out of every 10 women who die from pregnancy linked conditions in Ghana has had unsafe abortions. And 13 per cent of Ghanaian women who have had an abortion suffer complications brought on by unsafe procedures, new research reveals.
Fewer than half of women who undergo the procedure in the west African country got the follow-up care they needed.
The figures are surprising because Ghana is one of the few African countries where abortion is legal in many cases, and abortions carried out by a qualified professional under proper conditions are extremely safe.
New research released by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which works to improve sexual and reproductive health across the world, is based on figures from several studies, including the 2007 Ghana Maternal Health Survey.
Ignorance is a major factor leading to unsafe abortion in Ghana, the Abortion in Ghana report found. Only four per cent of women surveyed knew that abortion is legal under broad grounds. Not knowing that they can get a safe abortion legally, many women turn to unsafe abortionists.
High cost, a lack of qualified abortion providers and fears about social stigma are other barriers Ghanaian women face to getting safe abortions.
"That so many Ghanaian women are killed or injured by unsafe abortion is all the more tragic because it is unnecessary," says Gilda Sedgh, the researcher who wrote the report. "Efforts to increase awareness of the law, combined with better access to family planning services, would radically reduce deaths and injuries, improving the lives of women and families in Ghana."
At least seven per cent of all pregnancies in Ghana end in abortion, according to the research, and 15 per cent of women aged 15–49 admitted to having had an abortion. Abortion rates were highest in 20–24-year-olds, educated and better off women, and those living in town and city areas. Just over half of the women (57 per cent) who admitted that they had had an abortion went to a doctor to perform the procedure, while most others turned to pharmacists or traditional midwives to induce abortion. Almost one in five women induced the abortion themselves or had the help of a friend.
The most common reasons women gave for having an abortion was not having the money to take care of a child and wanting to finish school.
The report calls for better access to family planning services and counselling and improving education for young people about sexual health, highlighting the risks of unprotected intercourse and ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy.