The fight against unsafe abortions
An estimated 5.5 million unsafe abortions occur in Africa every year. With 40% of those women dying, something needs to be done.
Many argue about the morality of seeking abortion when one has an option to keep the baby and avoid health risks associated with unsafe abortions. But before we start judging these women, it is important to look at the root cause of this public health problem and the possible ways in which it can be addressed.

Can abortion be avoided?

Abortions can be avoided should all governments meet their obligations to the various international, regional and national policies they have signed to ensure that women’s sexual and reproductive rights are upheld.

Of particular note is the Africa Union Maputo Plan of Action of 2006. Among other things it calls for the guarantee of safe motherhood, making family planning services accessible, preventing abortion and management of complications resulting from unsafe abortion and the enhancing of sexual reproductive health services for adolescents and the youth.

According to the 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report, the unmet need for family planning remains moderate to high in most regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in four women aged 15 to 49 who are married or in a union and have expressed the desire to use contraceptives do not have access to them.

When such women fall pregnant, the only way out is abortion. It is not surprising that most women who find themselves in this situation are poor with little education and cannot afford to access abortion facilities. This forces most of them into using ghastly methods such as inserting sharp objects into their vagina, swallowing toxic herbal concoctions, overdosing on malaria medication or drinking bleach, just in order to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy.

Sex at a young age
and the consequences

In many countries, young women and men are engaging in sexual behaviour at a very young age. This exposes young women to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Keeping this issue of contraceptive usage and abortion in the shadows does not help anyone.

The evidence has shown that criminalising abortion and discouraging contraceptive use has adversely contributed to high maternal mortality in the region.

Realistically, the most appropriate way of dealing with abortion is for governments to revise their legal stance and scale-up programmes designed to meet the need for family planning.

According to a 2008 WHO study on unsafe abortion, unintended pregnancy and induced abortion can be prevented by expanding and improving family planning services and choices and reaching out to communities and undeserved population groups. This could be sexually active teenagers and unmarried women, migrants or poor urban slum dwellers.

The sooner we open our eyes and realise that unsafe abortions and the unmet need for family planning services are huge, the better for us all.

Lucia Makamure is the Gender Links Alliance Programme Officer. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service special series for Women’s Month.

What do you think can be done to fight unsafe abortions?

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