Around 17.1 million abortions were classed as unsafe as the woman was either taking pills alone, or with a helper that was using a method of abortion no longer considered safe or best practice.
Dr. Lisa Haddad remembers the women's faces clearly. Some of the women had unsafe abortions and were facing serious complications, she said.
"This is a public health priority and I don't think it's been placed on that level and given the attention that it needs", she said.
Worldwide, millions of women and girls are forced to risk their health and lives each year because of restrictive laws regarding abortion.
"Our findings call for the need to ensure access to safe abortions to the full extent of the law, particularly in low-income regions of the world, and efforts are needed to replace the use of unsafe methods with safe methods", Bela Ganatra, lead author of the study said.
World Health Organization guidelines recommend that access to a safe abortion should be available to women at the primary-care level.
WHO's research examined abortion data from 2010 to 2014, finding that Africa was the most risky place for abortion procedures with only a quarter of all procedures being safe, and almost half falling into the "least safe" category. About 14% fell into the "least safe" category. These were abortions that were done by a trained provider but with an outdated method, or if the abortion was done with a safe method but without the support of a trained person.
The researchers compiled data on abortion from 61 countries from the years 2010 to 2014. This distinction was used to offer "a more nuanced description of the spectrum of varying situations that constitute unsafe abortion".
Between 2010 and 2014, there were 55.7 million abortions per year, worldwide. "Complications from "least-safe" abortions can include incomplete abortion (failure to remove all of the pregnancy tissue from the uterus), haemorrhage, vaginal, cervical and uterine injury, and infections", the study stated.
Overall, nearly all abortions in developed countries were deemed safe, whereas roughly half of those in developing countries were safe, according to the findings.
Developing countries had a significantly higher proportion of unsafe abortions than developed countries (49.5 versus 12.5 percent).
Most abortions that take place in Western and Northern Europe and North America are safe.
Unsurprisingly, 87.5% all abortions in developed countries were safe.
Deaths are highest in West and Central Africa, at around 450 per 100,000 abortions, although the study authors warn that the mortality estimates are based on data from different time periods, The Guardian UK says.
"The paper did not examine country specific data, but other evidence shows that the same disparities exist within countries as well - between rural and urban, rich and poor", Ganatra said.
SPUC researcher Fiorella Nash has written before about how it is misleading to talk about "safe" and "unsafe" abortion.
To prevent unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, countries must make supportive policies and financial commitments to provide comprehensive sexuality education; a wide range of contraceptive methods, including emergency contraception; accurate family planning counselling; and access to safe, legal abortion.
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