It’s women’s right to make safe choises

We’re still in the middle of the pandemic, and most of us are probably more concerned about what we can do or not do these days, than we are concerned about things not directly related to our lives. I’m no exception, really, but in the end all I can do is live day by day and make the best of it.
But even if we are not so concerned about people far away these days, or concerned about other topics than the pandemic, things do happen around the world every day.

One of those things are unsafe abortions. Each year there’s an estimated 25 million unsafe abortions. That’s 68 493 abortions per day. 68 493 women and girls risking their lives.

As a matter of fact, unsafe abortions is one of the top five reasons why pregnant women die. And things haven’t become any better during the covid-pandemic. Estimates adds another 3 million unsafe abortions to the already high number, thereby adding several thousand women risking their lives because of an unwanted pregnancy.

The official number of girls and women who die from unsafe abortions is approximately 22 000 each year, but the number is probably larger. 7 million get complications after going through an unsafe abortion, many of these complications have severe impact on the women for the rest of their lives, and many will never be able to conceive again.

In the year of 2018, Doctors without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières treated 24 000 women for complications after unsafe abortions.

But what is an unsafe abortion? It is defined as an abortion without qualified, medical assistance, and/or in unhygienic and unsafe surroundings.

Some of the means used to end the pregnancies are herbs meant to provoke the body to reject the foetus, long and sharp objects, and chemicals injected into vagina to kill the foetus.

Why do women put themselves through this?

There’s no simple answer to be given, but most women seeking unsafe abortions are poor women. This should come as no surprise. Poor women do not have the means to seek professional help, or to go somewhere where abortion is legal and safe, if they live in a country where abortion is illegal. Neither are they given crucial and educative information about alternatives, family planning and prevention. As a consequence these women go through more unwanted pregnancies, and therefore more unsafe abortions.

In countries guided by strict religious legislation regarding abortion, but where abortion is still legal, many doctors refuse to perform abortions as they find it morally unacceptable.

In some countries, like El Salvador, abortion is illegal by law, even if the mother’s life is in danger. Women are given prison sentences, up to 50 years, if they are caught having had an abortion. Even if they lose their baby involuntarily after complications during the pregnancy, they risk several years in prison.

Another reason, is that professional medical aid is simply not available. In many countries, health clinics and hospitals are far away from where the women live, and when they do have access to them, the facilities are poorly structured. Having a safe abortion might seem impossible.

There is also the question of financing. Each time there’s a republican president elected in the USA, they usually impose the global gag rule, which means they cut of financial support to all organisations that informs, guides women and perform safe abortions. This has a huge impact of women’s reproductive health. The rule is usually reversed when there’s a democratic president elected. The global gag rule was last imposed by Trump, and then reversed as soon as Biden took office.

A lot of countries have very strict laws regarding abortion, making it practically impossible to have a safe and legal abortion, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or even if the girl is minor. But the thing is that strict laws do not prevent abortions! And these laws more often than not, go hand in hand with a lack of information about family planning and reproductive health in general. In the same countries we often also see high levels of gender based discrimination and violence against women. So the combination of lack of information, lack of access to prevention, lack of access to safe abortions and gender discrimination is a deadly cocktail for the women living here. It is also why the countries with the strictest laws regarding abortion have the highest abortion rates.

So what can we do about this?

First of all, we must never stop addressing the issue, and put pressure to grant women access to adequate information regarding their own reproductive health and family planning.

We must ensure that organisations and health facilities have the sufficient financial support to inform women, educate them and provide a safe environment to perform abortions.

We must support groups and organisations that work to improve women’s status, and to end gender based discrimination.

As individuals we often feel powerless, but we can raise our voices and speak up about this. And we can support various organisations financially. There are many organisations working within this area, and I’m sure you can find one that you see worthy of your support, whether it is UN supported organisations, or independent ones as Doctors without borders, Amnesty International, Red Cross etc.

Doctors without borders runs clinics and work with the issue on site in the field. Amnesty International puts pressure on governments to end unjust laws and to stop putting women in prison for a miscarriage or an abortion.

I have given just a very few examples of the organisations dealing with these problems, you are welcome to add to the list.