Abortion is a normal and vital component of sexual and reproductive health. Despite this reality, access to abortion is consistently stigmatized through culture and myths, restricted through regressive legislation and economic barriers, and politicized by conservative policymakers and activists that seek to control women’s bodies. To mark International Safe Abortion Day (September 28), IWHC joins a global network of activists in demanding that abortion be legal, accessible, and safe.
“I feared for my life not just because I was at high risk of another life threatening ectopic pregnancy but my husband and I were in no way ready for a child, mentally or financially.” – Anonymous
“I was fourteen years old when I had my abortion. The most difficult part of the whole ordeal was pushing my way through the mob of angry protesters…The pediatrician warned me that the risks involved with continuing my pregnancy could be life threatening. I knew that even if I was somehow able to beat the odds, I was too young to be a mother.” – Carley
“There was absolutely no thought other than to have an abortion. It wasn’t that we weren’t married yet…it was that we didn’t really know each other yet! Yes, we wanted kids… and we went on to have 3 after 4 years of getting to know each other… it just wasn’t the right time for us, and I never want that option to be taken away from any woman.” – Lea
One in Four Pregnancies End in Abortion
“I thought that at 30, I would be the oldest person getting an abortion. Not the case. Abortion does not discriminate. There were young women and older women, some who were already mothers of big kids. There were Black women, Asian women, White women, and Latina women.” – Kaylee
“I believe having an abortion should not be a shameful thing and that the media is dominated by too many fearful aborted fetus stories. I am so damn lucky. I am proud I made my decision. And, if one day you find yourself staring at two intersecting blue lines on a stick you just peed on, I hope you’ll feel empowered to make your own decision too.” – Cara Harshman
Abortion is often viewed as a taboo, a procedure performed by doctors, but somehow outside the realm of “normal” health care services. This dangerous myth stigmatizes women who choose the procedure and underpins unjust government restrictions. Abortion is more common than generally expected—globally, 25 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. The procedure is common all over the world, but the rate of abortion varies by region. It is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean (44 abortions per 1,000 women), followed by Asia (36), Africa (34), Europe (29), Oceania (19), and finally, North America (17).
Despite the global normalcy of abortion, far too many women lack legal and/or financial access to this critical health service. This lack of accessibility does not reduce the number of abortions. Instead, it forces women to make the chilling decision between carrying an unwanted or unviable pregnancy to term or resorting to a clandestine, and often unsafe, procedure. The rates of abortion are highest where the restrictions are the tightest. As a result, 25 million unsafe abortions are estimated to occur each year. This is a public health crisis entirely of our own making.
Toward Safe Abortion Care
“At 31 years old and in love with the idea of having children (and, frankly, with time running short to do so), I made the choice to have an abortion…I’m not sorry, I’m not ashamed, and I’m so grateful that I had the choice and the access to have a safe abortion.” – Elise
Though there are powerful forces that reject women’s sexual and reproductive rights, legislators have increasingly heeded the demands of women and recognized the centrality of abortion to women’s health and lives. Laws are liberalizing as a result. Since 2000, 34 countries have expanded the conditions in which the procedure is legal, including adding an exception in cases of rape, if the woman’s health is endangered, or a fetal impairment exists, as well as more comprehensive legislative shifts. Sixteen countries have lifted absolute bans, yet many have kept tight restrictions on abortion.
Despite legislative progress, significant challenges remain. Twenty-six countries still prohibit abortion without exception and 42 percent of women of reproductive age still live in countries where it is completely banned or tightly restricted. Some 70 jurisdictions around the world allow the refusal of abortion care and other services based on the health provider’s personal religious or moral beliefs. These punitive laws and policies contribute to the prevalence of unsafe abortions, a situation unparalleled to any other medical procedure.
Women should be trusted to make decisions about what they consider best for their own bodies, health, and lives. Far from a criminal act, abortion care is a right.
Join us in our fight to make abortion legal, accessible, and safe.