Today, 90 African women will die from illegal abortions. Ninety more will die tomorrow, and 90 more will die the day after that. While only 10% of the world's abortions happen in Africa, that continent accounts for about 50% of abortion-related deaths. One in 12 women who have abortions in Africa die. For every woman who dies, 20 to 30 women have their reproductive systems permanently damaged.Bold face added for emphasis. Does there seem something a bit wrong with the math there? If one in twelve dies, then between 240 and 360 percent of women receiving an illegal abortion in Africa has some serious medical issue. Which, rightness of the overall argument notwhithstanding, doesn't exactly seem correct.
So I did a bit of hunting, from the Rude Pundit's site, Jill links to one of her old posts here which in turn links to a no-longer-existing post on Alternet here, and seems to be an error on the part of another news organization, for a Google search revealed this link which contains the error with a bit more detail.
So what's the deal here? Since everyone's crediting the WHO for this information, I went straight to the horse's mouth: a WHO report (warning -- PDF file) on unsafe abortion practices and maternal mortality rates around the world. (See page 19 for a nice chart.)
Turns out that worldwide something on the order of nineteen million "unsafe" abortions are performed around the world, of which approximately four million two hundred thousand a performed in Africa. Of those four million and change, a hair under thirty thousand women die, which means that approximately 0.7 percent (i.e. seven in a thousand) women who undergo an unsafe abortion in Africa die during the procedure.
Which is a very far cry from the one-in-twelve numbers posted above. But still means that
The global case-fatality rate associated with abortion is probably 700 times higher than the rate associated with legal abortion in the United States; in some subregions it is well over 1000 times higher. Even in developed countries the rate is 80 times higher for an unsafe abortion as opposed to a legal procedure.(from page 22 of the PDF file)So where did the number "one in twelve" come from? Most likely from someone misreading the data -- back on page 19 the chart gives a number of 12% for all maternal deaths due to maternal abortion. Meaning that of all deaths during childbirth, 12 percent of them are due to an illegal and unsafe abortion.
Where the "20 to 30 times" as many women being seriously injured during an illegal abortion comes from I don't know. If we accept the data as real, that means something like two to three percent of women in Africa who have an abortion are seriously injured during the procedure. A humanitarian nightmare of its own, even if it's not quite as large as the original numbers would have led one to believe.