Abortion has been practiced around the world since ancient times as a crude method of birth control. Although many religions forbade or restricted the practice, abortion was not considered illegal in most countries until the 19th century. There were laws during this time, however, that banned abortion after quickeningthat is, the time that fetal movement can first be felt. In 1803 England banned all abortions, and this policy soon spread to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Throughout the middle and late 1800s, many states in the United States enacted similar laws banning abortion. In the 20th century, however, many nations began to relax their laws against abortion. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) legalized abortion in 1920, followed by Japan in 1948, and several Eastern European countries in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, much of Europe and Asia, along with Canada and the United States, legalized abortion.
An estimated 50 million abortions are performed worldwide each year. Of this number, a large percentage are performed illegally with disastrous consequencesillegal abortion accounts for an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 deaths worldwide each year, or about one in five pregnancy-related deaths. Illegal abortions are more likely to be performed by untrained people, in unsanitary conditions, or with unsafe surgical procedures or drugs. In some African countries, illegal abortion may contribute to up to 50 percent of pregnancy-related deaths. In Romania, where abortion was outlawed from 1966 to 1989, estimated 86 percent of pregnancy-related deaths was caused by illegal abortion. In countries where abortion is legal, less than 1 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are caused by abortion.