Long Read
4 March 2016

Overcoming barriers towards safe and legal abortion

During the International Conference on Family Planning in January, Simavi partners from Indonesia, India, Ghana and Kenya shared their experiences, hoping to build an international advocacy framework for safe and legal abortion.

A small group of activists are currently working to liberalise laws relating to safe and legal abortion in Indonesia.In many countries around the world, abortion is restricted. This means many women resort to having an abortion illegally, often in an unsafe manner that puts their lives at risk. Indonesia is among the countries that have strict abortion laws. It is only permitted under specific restrictive conditions: to save a woman’s life, in cases of foetal impairment, and in cases of rape. Because of these restrictions, women who would like to have an abortion do not have access to safe clinics.

Simavi and IHAP decided to organise an informal roundtable event on safe and legal abortion, to take advantage of the international audience gathered in Indonesia in January for the International Conference on Family Planning in January. The focus of the meeting was to share knowledge and experiences of working on safe and legal abortion in different contexts and generate support that might help improve the safe abortion situation in Indonesia and beyond.

Restrictive laws

Around 47,000 women die annually as a result of unsafe abortions, making it one of the major preventable causes of maternal mortality.

Representatives from Indonesia, Kenya, Ghana and India presented their specific country situations and shared experiences. All four countries permit safe abortion under certain conditions, such as significant risk to the life or mental or physical health of the woman or baby (India, Indonesia and Ghana), and when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest (Indonesia, Ghana). Kenya has introduced in 2010 a new law that was expected to increase access to safe abortion it is not being translated into practice. Ghana has one of the most progressive abortion laws in Africa.

Yet, safe abortion remains a controversial topic and, in all these countries, social, cultural and economic barriers continue to restrict women’s access to safe abortion. But the biggest barrier seen is the awareness of legal frameworks and the attitude of the general public, service providers and law enforcement on abortion.

The participants agreed to elevate the issue of safe and legal abortion nationally and internationally. Among the ideas that came up is the creation of a network of lawyers to support civil society and service providers working on safe abortion. The group also plans to share lessons on how to build successful alliances and influence policymakers, service providers, law enforcement and civil society.

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