(PRESS RELEASE) Trained nurses and midwives can safely and effectively administer abortion services, according to a new World Health Organization report on safe abortion care.
The WHO report provides recommendations on the role health workers can play in providing safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception. In the report, the WHO emphasizes how lack of trained providers is one of the most critical barriers to safe abortion services. The WHO also recognizes that women can safely and effectively take medications to induce abortion without the direct supervision of a health care provider.
“Training health care workers to provide safe abortion services could prevent the needless deaths of thousands of women and girls each year,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time governments take every step necessary to improve the lives and health of women and girls across the globe by adhering to these WHO guidelines and ensuring all women have access to safe abortion services.”
Nearly 22 million unsafe abortions take place globally each year, resulting in the deaths of over 47,000 women and girls. Nearly all of these (98%) occur in developing countries, which generally have more restrictive abortion laws. Adolescents, rural women, poor women and women without educations are disproportionately affected. In the new report, the WHO urges that these inequities can be addressed by expanding the range of health care workers who can administer abortion services.
Lack of skilled providers and confusion around who can provide abortion services hinders women’s access to safe abortion across the globe. In 2013, the Director of Medical Services in Kenya withdrew the government’s guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion and banned safe abortion trainings for health care professionals, which has led to great confusion as to when legal abortions can be provided. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a petition this June against Kenya’s Ministry of Health for undermining women’s constitutional rights and contributing to cases of maternal death by denying countless women, including rape survivors, access to safe, legal abortion.
In the past few years, more governments have implemented medically unnecessary regulations around who can provide abortion services. In 2013, Texas passed House Bill 2, a sweeping package of legislation aimed at restricting access to abortion services, including a requirement forcing all doctors who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The measure took effect in October 2014 and has resulted in the closure of more than half of the clinics in the state.
In the 2012 report Safe abortion: technical and policy guidance for health systems the WHO further recognized that unsafe abortion and the resulting maternal mortalities and morbidities are avoidable and could be eliminated entirely and called on states to guarantee women access to safe abortion services. This report recognizes the clear link between restrictive abortion laws, unsafe abortion and elevated rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.
According to a 2014 report published by the Center, 35 countries have amended their laws to expand access to safe and legal abortion services in the last 20 years—a trend that has marked incredible progress toward improving women’s rights and lives, including significantly reducing rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion. The report was released alongside the Center’s updated World’s Abortion Laws map—one of the most comprehensive resources on abortion laws across the globe.