Access to Safe Abortion is a Human Right

The following is an excerpt from the IWHC publication Access to Safe Abortion is a Human Right.

Safe abortion—the termination of a pregnancy by trained health care providers using correct, sanitary technique and proper equipment—is a simple, lifesaving health service. Nonetheless, of the 42 million induced abortions each year, an estimated 20 million are unsafe and 97% of those occur in developing countries.  Every year, nearly 70,000 women die unnecessarily from the complications of unsafe abortions, and countless more suffer infections, infertility, and debilitating injuries.

Abortion is legal in almost all countries to save a woman’s life, and approximately 30% of the world’s women may seek abortions either to preserve their physical or mental health or for socioeconomic reasons. Too often, though, safe abortion services are not provided by public health systems. The services that are available are not widely accessible or are of poor quality. This is true even where abortion laws are liberal as in India. Evidence from countries including the United States, Romania, and South Africa demonstrates that abortion-related deaths and injuries can be virtually eliminated with appropriate laws, policies, and services.

Women and girls who face punishment for having an abortion are not less likely to attempt abortion—they are less likely to have access to safe services. When abortion is restricted by law, trained providers may be reluctant to perform abortions, even when legally permissible, because they do not know the law, fear censure from the community, or hold personal beliefs against abortion. This can force women to seek unsafe abortions.

Reduction in the incidence of induced abortion is directly related to contraceptive availability. Recent data from countries of the former Soviet Union, for example, show that when contraception is widely available, the incidence of unintended pregnancy and abortion both decrease dramatically. In the developing world, more than 200 million women have an unmet need for contraceptives, including emergency contraception.

Safe abortion care is part of comprehensive reproductive health services, which should be accessible to and affordable for all women, married or not. These services should also include:

  • family planning counseling and contraceptive supplies, including female and male condoms;
  • antenatal, delivery, and postpartum care;
  • access to safe abortion services;
  • counseling and care after all abortions, safe or unsafe, as well as miscarriages;
  • prevention, care, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV-prevention methods such as microbicides when they become available;
  • programs that prevent violence against women and provide care and support.

Often, women and girls cannot exercise their rights to make sexual and reproductive health decisions. Comprehensive sexuality education for girls and boys promotes the rights of women to determine when and if they want to have children and their overall sexual health. Upholding women’s rights also requires that women’s access to education, income generation, and general health care is assured.

For the full factsheet, including links to law and policy documents as well as research, click here. You can download a PDF of the full resource from our website. It’s also available in French, Portuguese, and Spanish.



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