What has women's reproductive health decision-making capacity and other factors got to do with pregnancy termination in sub-Saharan Africa? Evidence from 27 cross-sectional surveys

Abdul Aziz SEIDU, Bright Opoku AHINKORAH, Edward Kwabena AMEYAW, Amu HUBERT, Wonder AGBEMAVI, Ebenezer Kwesi ARMAH-ANSAH, Eugene BUDU, Francis SAMBAH*, Vivian TACKIE

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Pregnancy termination is one of the key issues that require urgent attention in achieving the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages. The reproductive health decision-making (RHDM) capacity of women plays a key role in their reproductive health outcomes, including pregnancy termination. Based on this premise, we examined RHDM capacity and pregnancy termination among women of reproductive age in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). 

Materials and methods: We pooled data from the women's files of the most recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) of 27 countries in SSA, which are part of the DHS programme. The total sample was 240,489 women aged 15 to 49. We calculated the overall prevalence of pregnancy termination in the 27 countries as well as the prevalence in each individual country. We also examined the association between RHDM capacity, socio-demographic characteristics and pregnancy termination. RHDM was generated from two variables: decision-making on sexual intercourse and decision-making on condom use. Binary logistic regression analysis was conducted and presented as Crude Odds Ratios (COR) and Adjusted Odds Ratios (AOR) with their corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI). Statistical significance was declared p<0.05. 

Results: The prevalence of pregnancy termination ranged from 7.5% in Benin to 39.5% in Gabon with an average of 16.5%. Women who were capable of taking reproductive health decisions had higher odds of terminating a pregnancy than those who were incapable (AOR = 1.20, 95% CI = 1.17-1.24). We also found that women aged 45-49 (AOR = 5.54, 95% CI = 5.11-6.01), women with primary level of education (AOR = 1.14, 95% CI = 1.20-1.17), those cohabiting (AOR = 1.08, 95% CI = 1.04-1.11), those in the richest wealth quintile (AOR = 1.06, 95% CI = 1.02-1.11) and women employed in the services sector (AOR = 1.35, 95% CI = 1.27-1.44) were more likely to terminate pregnancies. Relatedly, women who did not intend to use contraceptive (AOR = 1.47, 95% CI = 1.39-1.56), those who knew only folkloric contraceptive method (AOR = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.18-1.32), women who watched television almost every day (AOR = 1.16, 95% CI = 1.20-1.24) and those who listened to radio almost every day (AOR = 1.11, 95% CI = 1.04-1.18) had higher odds of terminating a pregnancy. However, women with four or more children had the lowest odds (AOR = 0.5, 95% CI = 0.54-0.60) of terminating a pregnancy. 

Conclusion: We found that women who are capable of taking reproductive health decisions are more likely to terminate pregnancies. Our findings also suggest that age, level of education, contraceptive use and intention, place of residence, and parity are associated with pregnancy termination. Our findings call for the implementation of policies or the strengthening of existing ones to empower women about RHDM capacity. Such empowerment could have a positive impact on their uptake of safe abortions. Achieving this will not only accelerate progress towards the achievement of maternal health-related SDGs but would also immensely reduce the number of women who die as a result of pregnancy termination in SSA.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0235329
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Seidu et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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