World Health Day 2010
Around the world, restrictive laws and policies force women to resort to unsafe abortions, often with disastrous consequences. In honor of World Health Day, the Center for Reproductive Rights calls on governments worldwide to guarantee access to safe and legal abortion, as well as the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, as essential to securing women’s lives and health.
In the Center’s latest report, In Harm’s Way: the Impact of Kenya’s Restrictive Abortion Law, the findings illustrate what a woman’s world looks like when she doesn’t have access to legal and safe abortion.
The report tells the story of Sarah, a young girl living in an impoverished slum outside Nairobi who was forced to have sex with men in order to support her family. Sarah became pregnant at the age of 14, and a woman in her community advised her to get an abortion. In Kenya, however, abortion is only legally permitted for “preservation of life,” so Sarah procured an unsafe abortion.
Soon after, Sarah developed a dangerous, life-threatening infection which left her in great pain and bed-ridden for a month. The cost of emergency healthcare and the fear of arrest kept her from going to a hospital. Sarah and her mother were afraid to talk to anyone about how sick she was because of the risk of arrest and the fear of community condemnation. Sarah died soon afterward. She is one of an estimated 70,000 women who die every year around the world from complications of unsafe abortion.
Restrictive abortion laws and policies make it difficult or even impossible for women to access legal reproductive health services. In countries like the Philippines, women seeking routine and emergency post-abortion healthcare are frequently denied humane care and treatment and are harassed, abused or even threatened that they’ll be reported to the police. The threat of mistreatment contributes to significant delays in seeking care for complications and even deters some women from seeking care altogether.
In the Philippines, the situation is exacerbated by policies like Executive Order 003, which effectively bans modern contraceptives from public health facilities in Manila and makes it nearly impossible for most women to plan and space their pregnancies. Time after time, the Center’s work has demonstrated that access to safe and legal abortion is central to protecting women’s lives and promoting their overall health and wellbeing. Ending restrictive abortion laws is an essential step forward.