Abortion restrictions don’t lower rates -WHO
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said, restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions that take place.
The Head of WHO’s Prevention of Unsafe Abortion Unit, Dr. Bela Ganatra, disclosed this in its newly released guidelines on abortion. The global health agency said the new guidelines are to help countries deliver lifesaving care, adding that restrictions are more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures.
WHO also noted that in countries where abortion is most restricted, only one in four abortions is safe, compared to nearly nine in 10 in countries where the procedure is broadly legal.
It said when abortion is carried out using a method recommended by WHO, appropriate to the duration of the pregnancy and assisted by someone with the necessary information or skills, it is a simple and extremely safe procedure.
Figures show that unsafe abortions cause around 39,000 deaths every year and result in millions more women hospitalised with complications and most of these deaths are concentrated in developing countries, with over 60 per cent in Africa and 30 percent in Asia, and among those living in the most vulnerable situations.
“Alongside the clinical and service delivery recommendations, the guidelines recommend removing medically unnecessary policy barriers to safe abortion, such as criminalisation, mandatory waiting times, the requirement that approval must be given by other people for instance, partners or family members or institutions, and limits on when during pregnancy an abortion can take place. Such barriers can lead to critical delays in accessing treatment and put women and girls at greater risk of unsafe abortion, stigmatisation, and health complications while increasing disruptions to education and their ability to work.
“While most countries permit abortion under specified circumstances, about 20 countries provide no legal grounds for abortion. More than three in four countries have legal penalties for abortion, which can include lengthy prison sentences or heavy fines for people having or assisting with the procedure,” Bela said.
“It’s vital that abortion is safe in medical terms. But that’s not enough on its own. As with any other health services, abortion care needs to respect the decisions and needs of women and girls, ensuring that they are treated with dignity and without stigma or judgment. No one should be exposed to abuse or harms like being reported to the police or put in jail because they have sought or provided abortion care.”
For unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions to be prevented, Dr. Ganatra added that one needs to provide women and girls with a comprehensive package of sexuality education, accurate family planning information and services, and access to quality abortion care.
Quality abortion care is effective care, delivered by health workers with the right skills, resources, and information; safe; accessible to all those that need it; timely, and respectful of women and girls’ needs and rights.