Population Matters

Challenges for access to safe abortion in Africa

Challenges for access to safe abortion in Africa

The Africa Regional Conference on Abortion: From Research to Policy, which ended on 2 December, brought together more than 250 experts, activists and policymakers to examine progress in the field since Ethiopia introduced landmark legislation to ensure access to abortion in 2005. This week the conference issued a declaration commending significant positive developments over the last decade, but noting that approximately 90% of African women of childbearing age still live in countries with restrictive abortion laws.

The declaration states:

In Africa, more than eight million women have abortions each year, many of them unsafe. Each year, about 1.6 million women are treated for complications from unsafe abortion, and thousands more suffer complications but do not receive the treatment they need. Because so many abortions in the region are unsafe, roughly 16,000 maternal deaths annually are due to unsafe abortion. The consequences of unsafe abortion for women and their families, and for society as a whole, are significant and enduring. 

… Even where the law allows abortion under certain circumstances, few women, including survivors of sexual violence, are able to navigate the processes required to access a safe and legal procedure.

The declaration commits participants to hold governments to account to honour commitments to provide equal access to safe abortion and secure the necessary political support and resources. It also seeks to improve the evidence base for policy and ensure research is well disseminated.

Noting the importance incorporating the voices of young women into policy and programme design, the declaration concludes:

When women and girls are able to make their own sexual and reproductive health decisions, they can safeguard their health and achieve their educational, childbearing and career goals. We pledge to come together as a community of experts who share the commitment to expanding access to comprehensive and high-quality reproductive health care, including safe abortion. We will trust the women and girls of Africa so that they can fully realize their reproductive rights and achieve their potential.

Signatories to the declaration include the African Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the African Population and Health Research Center, Marie Stopes International and the Guttmacher Institute.