Background: Most islands in the West Indies do not have liberal laws on abortion, nor laws on pregnancy prevention programmes (contraception). We present results of a literature review about the attitude of healthcare providers and women toward (emergency) contraception and induced abortion, prevalence, methods and juridical aspects of induced abortion and prevention policies.
Methods: Articles were obtained from PubMed, EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsychINFO and SocIndex (1999 to 2010) using as keywords contraception, induced abortion, termination of pregnancy, medical abortion and West Indies.
Results: Thirty-seven articles met the inclusion criteria: 18 on contraception, 17 on induced abortion and two on both subjects. Main results indicated that healthcare providers’ knowledge of emergency contraception was low. Studies showed a poor knowledge of contraception, but counselling increased its effective use. Exact numbers about prevalence of abortion were not found. The total annual number of abortions in the West Indies is estimated at 300 000; one in four pregnancies ends in an abortion. The use of misoprostol diminished the complications of unsafe abortions. Legislation of abortion varies widely in the different islands in the West Indies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Guadeloupe and St Martin have legal abortions. Barbados was the first English-speaking island with liberal legislation on abortion. All other islands have restrictive laws.
Conclusion: Despite high estimated numbers of abortion, research on prevalence of abortion is missing. Studies showed a poor knowledge of contraception and low use among adolescents. Most West Indian islands have restrictive laws on abortion.
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