Safe abortion is vital to women’s health

The World Health Organization today released new abortion care guidelines to protect women’s health and help prevent unsafe abortions. There are currently more than 25 million unsafe abortions worldwide each year.

Craig Lissner, acting director of WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research, said access to safe abortion services was a key component of health care delivery.

“Deaths and injuries from unsafe abortion are almost entirely preventable. We recommend providing all women with the abortion and family planning services they need.” he said.

The comprehensive guideline brings together more than 50 recommendations based on the latest scientific evidence, covering clinical practice, health services, and legal and policy interventions to support the delivery of high-quality abortion care.

Improve people-centred, high-quality services

Abortion is a simple and extremely safe procedure when used at the appropriate time during pregnancy and with the assistance of someone with the necessary information or skills.

Unfortunately, however, only about half of all abortions are safe, and unsafe abortions kill about 39,000 people each year and lead to the hospitalization of countless women with complications.

Most of these deaths are concentrated in low-income countries. Africa accounts for more than 60% of all global abortion deaths, and Asia accounts for 30%, and is concentrated among the most vulnerable populations.

Remove unnecessary policy barriers

The new guidelines recommend removing policy barriers to safe abortion that are not medically necessary, such as criminalization, mandatory waiting, approval by another person (such as a partner or family member) or agency, and restrictions on when you can have an abortion during pregnancy.

These policy barriers can lead to significant delays, put women and girls at greater risk of unsafe abortion, stigma and complications, and further impact their educational opportunities and ability to work, WHO noted.

While most countries allow abortion under certain circumstances, there are still about 20 countries that do not provide a legal basis for abortion. More than three-quarters of these countries have laws that penalize abortion, such as long prison terms or heavy fines for those who perform or assist in abortion.

Limiting services doesn’t reduce miscarriages

Bela Ganatra, Director of WHO’s Unsafe Abortion Prevention Unit, said, “From a medical point of view, safe abortion is vital. But it is not enough by itself. Like any other health service, abortion care needs to respect women’s wishes and needs and ensure that they receive Treated with dignity, without discrimination or criticism. No one should be abused or harmed, such as calling the police or jailed, for seeking or providing abortion care.”

Evidence suggests that limiting the availability of abortion services does not reduce the number of miscarriages. In fact, restrictions have the potential to lead to unsafe abortions for women and girls. In countries with the most restricted abortions, only one in four abortions are safe, compared with nearly 90 percent in countries where abortion is widely legal.

“There is clear evidence that to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, women need comprehensive sex education, reliable family planning information and services, and access to high-quality abortion care.” Garnatra stressed.

PArimary care interventions

The new guidelines recommend a number of simple and accessible primary care interventions that can improve the quality of abortion care for women and girls, including: sharing tasks among a broad range of health workers; ensuring access to abortion medicines and ensuring more women have access to safe abortion services and ensure accurate care information is available to all who need it.

The new guidelines also for the first time recommend the use of telehealth services when appropriate. Telehealth helps women access abortion and family planning services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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