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It's time to make unsafe abortion history

Tuesday 28 September 2021 MSI Reproductive Choices Safe abortion and post abortion care

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International Safe Abortion Day this year brings an end to a month of highs and lows in abortion rights. While abortion has been decriminalised in Mexico, a draconian new law in Texas, banning abortion as early as six weeks, will drive more women towards unsafe abortions.

It's a reminder to those of us who support a woman's right to choose, that we can never be complacent. As we see a more organised and well-funded opposition, it's more important than ever for us to raise our voices and make sure people know what's at stake when abortion rights are rolled back.

We know that abortion restrictions don’t stop women seeking services, they simply lead to more women turning to unsafe methods. According to the WHO, unsafe abortion is the cause of up to 13 percent of pregnancy-related deaths— a number which is likely to be a conservative estimate due to underreporting. And the more restrictive the legal setting, the higher the proportion of abortions that are unsafe.

The toll on women is devastating. Every year across the world, 35 million women risk their lives undergoing an unsafe abortion, millions face complications, and at least 22,000 die.

Bárbara, an MSI midwife in Mexico, who provides life-saving post-abortion care, describes the horrifying measures some women are forced to take: “On many occasions, women do things like sticking wires into themselves to end the pregnancy. We have had cases where women have taken a pesticide used in fields when they found out they were pregnant.”

Some live to tell the tale, like a teenager who sought help from Faith, an MSI midwife in Nigeria. That young woman received treatment for her infection and left with contraception to protect her from future unintended pregnancies. Faith says: “She is doing pretty well now. She was 17 then, unmarried with a child at home already, and now she doesn’t have the fear of getting pregnant again. The last time I talked to her, she told me she was going back to school.”

Not everyone is so lucky, however. According to the WHO, seven million women face complications each year as a result of an unsafe abortion, including serious health conditions such as haemorrhage, infection, and life-long debilitating conditions. Many of these women continue to suffer for the rest of their lives, unable to receive the medical care they need.

What’s also concerning about the Texas law, is that we know when abortion access is restricted in the US it can embolden, legitimise, and influence the policies of anti-choice movements the world over. In recent years, we have seen anti-choice organisations that started in the US spread to other countries. This month, for example, we are seeing Texas-founded anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life set up camp outside abortion clinics around the globe. Our teams witness their distressing tactics and the impact they have on women trying to access essential healthcare services. These actions further stigmatise reproductive choice, demonstrating once again why we need to raise our voices in defence of the right to choose.

This International Safe Abortion Day, join us in sharing why choice matters to you by using the hashtag #ChoiceMatters.

It only costs £6 per year – or 2 pence per day – for MSI to provide someone with life-changing reproductive healthcare, giving them the power to decide if or when to become pregnant. This reproductive choice helps keep girls in school, supports women to lead, and helps build more equal communities. Support our work to enable reproductive choice globally.

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