The decline in abortions corresponded with increased contraceptive use, though access to contraception remains uneven in the developing world.
Between 1995 and 2003, the number of abortions performed worldwide fell from 45.5 million to 41.6 million. The global rate of abortions fell as well: from 35 abortions for every 1,000 women of reproductive age (15-44) in 1995, to 29 per 1,000 women in 2003.
The decline corresponds with a growth in contraceptive use worldwide. The proportion of married women practicing contraception rose from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003, Guttmacher reports. Unmarried, sexually active women are also more likely to be using contraception.
What spurred the increase in contraceptive use?
"In the course of social and economic development, women and couples increasingly want smaller families, and so in a broad sense those are some of the contributors to uptake of contraception," says Gilda Sedgh, a senior research associate at the New York-based Guttmacher Institute and a coauthor of the study.
"That of course is not possible without access to contraception. So it's service provision and international investments in family planning programs that have made it possible."
While both developed and developing regions of the world saw growth in contraceptive use – and decline in abortion and unintended pregnancy – there was greater progress in the developed world. In the developing world, Africa lagged the most.