Fetal death refers to the death of a post-embryonic product of conception while in utero or during childbirth, and it is one of the most distressing events faced by women and families. Birth following spontaneous fetal death is termed “miscarriage” if it occurs early in gestation, and “stillbirth,” if it occurs beyond the point of viability. There are substantial between-country differences in the criteria used for reporting stillbirths and these differences compromise international comparisons of stillbirth rates. In high-income countries, a majority of fetal deaths occur due to genetic causes, fetal infection, or other pregnancy complications. Congenital anomalies, placental insufficiency, and/or intrauterine growth restriction are frequent antecedents of fetal death. Maternal risk factors include advanced maternal age, high body mass index, smoking and substance use during pregnancy, prior stillbirth, chronic morbidity, and multifetal pregnancy. Disparities in education and socioeconomic status and other factors influencing maternal health also contribute to elevated rates of stillbirth among vulnerable women.
Sarka Lisonkova and K. S. Joseph
Suzanne O. Bell, Mridula Shankar, and Caroline Moreau
Induced abortion is a common reproductive experience, with more than 73 million abortions occurring each year globally. Worldwide, the annual abortion incidence decreased in the 1990s and the early decades of the 21st century, but this decline has been driven by high-resource settings, whereas abortion rates in low- and middle-resource countries have remained stable. Induced abortion is a very safe procedure when performed according to World Health Organization guidelines; however, legal restrictions, stigma, cost, lack of resources, and poor health system accountability limit the availability, accessibility, and use of quality abortion care services. Even as women’s use of safer self-managed medication abortion options becomes more common in some parts of the world, 45% of all abortions annually are unsafe, nearly all of which occur in low- and middle-resource settings, where unsafe abortion remains a primary cause of maternal death. Beyond country-level legal and health care system factors, significant disparities exist in women’s reliance on unsafe abortion. Even among women who receive a safe abortion, quality of care is often poor. Yet abortion’s precarious status as a health care service and its clandestine practice have precluded a systematic focus on quality monitoring and evaluation of service inputs. Improving abortion and postabortion care quality is essential to meeting this reproductive health need, as are efforts to prevent abortion-related mortality and morbidity more broadly. This requires a three-tier approach: primary prevention to reduce unintended pregnancy, secondary prevention to make abortion procedures safer, and tertiary prevention to reduce the negative sequelae of unsafe abortion procedures. Strategies include two complementary approaches: vulnerability reduction and harm reduction, the first focusing on the root causes of unsafe abortion by addressing the determinants of unwanted pregnancy and clandestine abortion, while the latter addresses the harmful consequences of clandestine abortion. Political commitments to extend service coverage of abortion and postabortion care need to be implemented through actions that build the public health system’s capacity. Beyond the model of receiving care exclusively in clinical settings, models of guided self-managed abortion are expanding the capacity of individuals to take evidence-based actions to terminate their pregnancies safely and without the threat of judgment. Research has strived to keep up with the changes in the abortion care landscape, but there remains a continuing need to improve methodologies to generate robust evidence to identify and address inequities in abortion care and its health consequences in a diversified landscape. Doing so will provide information for stakeholders to take actions toward a new era of health care reforms that repositions abortion as an integral component of sexual and reproductive health care.