CommonHealth is a coalition of 110 institutions and individuals—including health care providers, researchers, nongovernmental advocates, human rights lawyers, grassroots activists, and public sector program managers—that advocates for better access and higher quality maternal and neonatal health and safe abortion services.
CommonHealth aims to raise visibility of the unacceptably high mortality and morbidity among mothers and newborns and the lack of access to safe abortion, especially among the disadvantaged.
Abortion up to 20 weeks on a broad range of grounds has been legal in India since 1971. However, like many countries in Asia, India is experiencing increasingly skewed sex ratios. Growing concern over sex-selective abortion has made doctors reluctant to perform any abortion, especially in public sector facilities. In 1994, pre-natal sex determination techniques were banned, and while that did not change the 1971 law, awareness of the ban on sex determination has led the public and even health providers to believe that abortion is illegal. Furthermore, many providers have started to refuse abortions in the second trimester, fearing that they will be accused of performing a sex-selective abortion.
Women from vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society are most affected by this misperception of abortion law, and have few options but to risk an unsafe abortion. Currently, between 9 and 18 percent of maternal deaths in the country are from unsafe abortions; in some states the percentage is much higher.
With its partners, CommonHealth is working to train its members and other advocates to hold India’s public health system accountable for increasing access to safe maternal health care and to abortion services. This is done through regional meetings with its member groups and sometimes state-level government officials; extensive media coverage of these meetings increases greater public awareness of these issues. CommonHealth is also working to ensure that state governments conduct regular maternal death reviews and make these available to the public.The organization has also developed two workshop kits on safe abortion and making pregnancy safer, which are used by advocates as resources to train other civil society organizations working on maternal health accountability issues. Finally, CommonHealth works to foster alliances between those working to prevent sex-selection and those working to promote women’s access to safe abortion, thereby creating a larger cohort of sensitized advocates who are able to effectively straddle both worlds and find common ground.