Women advocacy groups from around the world have called upon governments to make safe abortion an agenda under maternal healthcare.
The lobbies said countries must fulfil the International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) commitments on women’s health and rights through universal access to safe abortion.
During a session on safe abortion in health systems, focusing on the regional challenges, progress and accelerators, the groups said continued criminalisation of safe abortion was weakening efforts to provide quality maternal care in many parts of the globe, mostly in the developing world.
The panel, while presenting regional progress towards provision of safe abortion globally at the ICPD25 forum that ended in Nairobi on Thursday, concurred that it was critical to make safe abortion universally accessible to achieve zero preventable maternal deaths.
The country and regional representatives of women’s reproductive health rights argued that motherhood should be voluntary and that safe abortion ought to be treated as a legitimate form of healthcare.
They said safe abortion should be made available just like any other health service at public facilities.
Dr AnaCristina Gonzalez Velez said women in Latin America, Asia and Africa live in countries where abortion laws are the most restrictive in the world and where maternal deaths are still a big issue for women.
“Maternal morbidity is still an issue in these regions because women are accessing unsafe abortions due to these restrictive regulations and lack of access. We have much to learn from each other,” said Dr Velez, a member of the Global Doctors for Choice.
“Although in some regions women have been able to advance the abortion agenda, we have some countries that have decriminalised abortion up to a certain age of the foetus, and you don’t have to have an indication, you just need to have your own reason to request an abortion so we have legal abortions under certain circumstances, but we are still facing barriers to access,” she added.
In Africa, South Africa was hailed as one of the countries with progressive laws on abortion.
“It has been argued in some regions that legalising safe abortion is a foreign imposition on African countries, but when you look at our entire legal system, you find that it is actually a foreign imposition to start with,” said Ms Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director, Arrow (Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women).
Women’s organisations mulled over whether the decision to procure an abortion should be left to women alone. “People need to abandon the idea that women are promiscuous and self-obsessed or self-gratifying.
“It is a difficult decision for women to make. Women are the ones that are affected by child bearing, so they should be allowed to make their own decisions,” she said.
“We love controlling and labelling women … the biggest issue is self-stigma. Stigma from society and stigma on providers is a very big barrier. Nobody understands that this is a maternal health priority; it is tagged as shida ya kujitakia (self-inflicted pain),” said Ipas director Ernest Njamato.