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News > World

WHO Recommends Access to Safe Abortion To Protect Women's Health

  • A poster from a campaign supporting safe abortion.

    A poster from a campaign supporting safe abortion. | Photo: Twitter/ @MimaJaymie

Published 9 March 2022

About 25 million unsafe abortions occur each year. As a result, at least 39,000 women die and millions of women are hospitalized, many with long-term injuries or damage.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) released new guidelines on abortion care in a bid to help prevent over 25 million unsafe abortions that occur each year.


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“Nearly every death and injury that results from unsafe abortion is entirely preventable. That’s why we recommend women and girls can access abortion and family planning services when they need them,” the WHO Director for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research Craig Lissner said.

"Based on the latest scientific evidence, these consolidated guidelines bring together over 50 recommendations spanning clinical practice, health service delivery, and legal and policy interventions to support quality abortion care," he added.

Only half of the estimated 50 million abortions that occur each year take place safely. As a result, 39,000 women die from unsafe procedures and millions of women are hospitalized, many with long-term injuries or damage. Most unsafe abortions occur in Africa (60 percent) and Asia (30 percent), especially in those contexts where women are most vulnerable.

The WHO indicates that abortion should be a simple intervention at the primary health care level, in which access to abortion pills and clear and precise information should be provided to patients. It also recommends that countries eliminate barriers to safe abortions such as the criminalization of the procedure, mandatory waiting times, the requirement that parents or partners authorize the abortion, and the period within which an abortion can be performed.

Currently, about 20 countries provide no legal grounds for abortion. More than 3 in 4 countries have legal penalties for abortion, which can include lengthy prison sentences or heavy fines for people having or assisting with the procedure.

"It’s vital that an abortion is safe in medical terms. But that’s not enough on its own. As with any other health services, abortion care needs to respect the decisions and needs of women and girls, ensuring that they are treated with dignity and without stigma or judgement. No one should be exposed to abuse or harms like being reported to the police or put in jail because they have sought or provided abortion care," said Bela Ganatra, Head of WHO’s Prevention of Unsafe Abortion Unit.

Empirical evidence has confirmed that restricting access to abortion does not reduce the number of abortions because it only means that women have to resort to dangerous procedures. In countries where there are more restrictions, only 1 in 4 four abortions is safe, compared to 1 in 10 procedures in countries where abortion is legal.

The WHO emphasizes that if the objective of public policy is to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, then countries should offer sexual education, information on family planning, and quality abortion services.

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