Women in all parts of the world face obstacles to their ability to exercise reproductive rights and maintain reproductive health. This is true in industrialized, democratic societies as well as in developing countries and those with oppressive political regimes. It is nevertheless true that the obstacles are much worse in those parts of the world in which women are systematically oppressed, have few civil rights, or are in such dire poverty that they are unable to afford preventive and therapeutic services that would otherwise be available to them. Some of the obstacles to women's reproductive rights and health are legal and political; some are consequences of deeply rooted customs or cultural norms, including religious teachings; and others are a combination of several of these factors. This article will review some of these challenges confronting women and families.2 In a majority of developing countries, legal barriers restrict women's access to safe abortions. Laws prohibiting abortion for reasons other than to save the life of the woman exist in many countries, but as is well known, such laws do not prevent women from having abortions. They typically prevent women from having safe abortions, resulting in significant morbidity and mortality. At least 78,000 women die each year from complications of unsafe abortion and hundreds of thousands of women suffer from long- or short-term disabilities. In low-income countries, about 200 women die each day as a result of unsafe abortions. Unsafe abortions are responsible for 13% of all maternal deaths globally. Each year, an estimated 20 million unsafe abortions are performed worldwide, 95% of which are performed in low-income countries.
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