Representatives from IPAS, Sida, Karolinska Institute, RFSU and donor organisations from the Netherlands, Finland and Norway.
Photo: Adelina Storkaas
Unsafe abortion: An important right- and development issue
Each year 22 million unsafe abortions are executed in the world. To ensure that women do not have risky abortions, more resources such as modern technology, knowledge and money are needed. This was confirmed when international partners met at a seminar in Stockholm.
Every woman’s right to safe abortions is an important issue in the Swedish development work and it is integrated in the work for SRHR and equality. IPAS is a non-government organisation working in the field that Sida has supported over the last 20 years. IPAS works with policy influence, education and research about safe abortions for women.
On Tuesday February 2, 22 representatives from IPAS, Sida, Karolinska Institute, RFSU and donor organisations from the Netherlands, Finland and Norway gathered at Sida’s headquarters in Stockholm to discuss global challenges and the progress of access to safe abortions. Unsafe abortions means that they have been carried out in an environment which does not meet the minimum requirements of medical standards or that the person executing the abortion lack satisfactory medical training.
Merril Wolf, senior advisor for strategic partnership at IPAS, spoke during the seminar of situations when women and girls cannot have safe abortions and access to contraception is limited in the areas where they live. They become very vulnerable in this conflict where they neither can address their fears of getting pregnant nor get support from the government if they do.
- It is an outrageous situation so we are working with a lot of partners in the regions to underscore this conflict and encourage access to abortion and safe abortion in cases when they get pregnant and don’t want to have children, she said.
Large investments in health care and competence are required to ensuring access to safe abortions around the world. However, it is not just an economic issue. In many countries abortions are still a sensitive issue which makes it difficult for NGOs like IPAS to work there.
During the seminar the participants discussed donor organizations shortcomings in their approach to prevent unwanted pregnancies. In many countries, post abortion care after complications of unsafe abortions or miscarriages is very limited which can make it difficult for women to get pregnant at another stage in life.
- Donors often supply contraceptions, but emergency post abortion technology is underfunded, according to Katie Early from IPAS.
Helena Kopp Kallner from Karolinska Institute agreed that post abortion care is an important issue that should be recognised. She pointed out that even though surgery is most frequently used, it could be replaced by medical abortion which can be used by the women themselves and is cheaper.
Progress has been made - but more research is needed
During the seminar, the participants concluded that more research is needed in many areas to combat unsafe abortions. One area that especially concerns young women in developing countries and requires more research is the best methods for late abortions, ie abortions that take place after the 12th week of pregnancy. Other areas that also require further research are the quality of suppliers, acceptance and complications. It is often difficult to find funding for projects in developing countries however.
Despite a lack of sponsors for these kinds of projects, Helena Kopp Kallner mentioned a successful project with medical students in Uganda where attitudes towards safe abortions changed from the bottom up. Ethiopia was also mentioned by participants as a good example of a country which has made a lot of progress over the last years.
The ongoing legislation process in Sierra Leone is also one example which demonstrates the importance of collaboration on many levels. Religious groups, women groups and UN human rights’ experts all raise their voices in the decision making and support of the new law proposal which makes abortion legal.
- Our team there has been working day and night for the last week or so on top of a lot of work over the previous years to help bring about law reform there, Merrill Wolf said.
Even though governments, donors, NGOs, organisations and people in society all work together, it can be difficult to reach women out of school and young women which do not seek help for abortion issues as often as older women in developing countries.
- Human rights can not only come down from international human bodies. The key is to increase the level of understanding on all levels including the health care providers, the women themselves and community leaders, said Katie Early.
Approximately 44 million women have abortions annually according to the latest statistics from 2008 and about 50 percent of them are unsafe. This is a problem in many developing countries where young, displaced, poverished and victims of sexual abuse does not get the treatment they need. 98 percent of the unsafe abortions take place in this part of the world.
- Stigma, incomplete knowledge and disinformation, negative attitude and believes are part of the explanation for these figures, according to Katie Early.