Reproductive choice can be defined as a right to decide if or when to become pregnant, with the autonomy to make decisions about our own bodies and futures.
As a result, reproductive choice can relate to the ability to make an informed choice about a short-term or long-term contraceptive method, or to access safe abortion care if someone decided to terminate an unintended pregnancy.
Reproductive choice gives people autonomy over their reproductive system, enabling them to make decisions that are best for their health and lives. This benefits not only an individual, by enabling them to decide what’s right for their future, for example by continuing their education or pursuing a career, but also families and communities, as with reproductive choice, women can play a greater role in wider society.
Reproductive choice is also an essential element of sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights. A lack of access to reproductive choice can have devastating consequences for people's health and lives.
For these reasons, we're working towards a world where everyone, everywhere, has reproductive choice.
Sexual and reproductive health is an integral part of overall health and well-being, ensuring everyone can have safe and pleasurable sexual experiences.
With reproductive choice, someone who would like to avoid pregnancy for a few months or years can access a long-term form of contraception, such as an IUD or implant, or a barrier method, such as a condom, which also prevents the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
If someone faces an unintended pregnancy that they do not want to continue, with reproductive choice, they can access a safe abortion service, without having to resort to an unsafe method.
Equally, with reproductive choice, if someone would like to become pregnant, they can access the healthcare and advice needed to have a healthy pregnancy. And if a mother would like to space her pregnancies to protect her health and choose a family size that is right for them, with reproductive choice, they can do so.
If someone is unable to exercise their right to reproductive choice, and the services they need, it can put their health, life, and future at risk. Without access to contraception, it can be difficult to avoid unintended pregnancy and if unable to access safe abortion, women can resort to unsafe methods, which can be life-threatening. Pregnancy can also be dangerous, without access to the right healthcare, especially for young people.
While abortion care is now one of the world’s safest procedures, policy and legal restrictions in some countries continue to prevent women and pregnant people from accessing safe services. In these settings, when facing an unintended pregnancy, some people resort to an unsafe abortion.
An unsafe abortion is defined as an abortion that is carried out either by a person lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not meet minimal medical standards, or both.
Every year, half of all abortions that take place are unsafe. As a result, an estimated 16 million women face health complications, and 23,000 people lose their lives. If everyone had access to reproductive choice and safe care, these lives could be saved.
Find out more in our unsafe abortion explainer.
Christiana had already bought her application form for university when she found out she was pregnant. At a time when pregnant women in Sierra Leone were not allowed into colleges or universities, she decided that an abortion would enable her to pursue the future she had intended.
With a young family to support, Christiana had little money to spare and decided to visit one of her neighbourhood’s ‘pepe doctors’, men with no medical training who offer abortions for a low price.
When she returned home, she was experiencing crippling pain and was bleeding heavily. Fearing for her life, Christiana sought post-abortion care at an MSI clinic, which treats the complications caused by unsafe abortion. An MSI doctor found that Christiana had a perforated uterus which, left untreated, would have killed her.
Restricting access to abortion does not prevent abortion, it only increases the number of people accessing unsafe abortions instead.
Evidence shows that when access to safe abortion is restricted, abortion rates remain the same, but the number of women dying or suffering injuries due to unsafe abortion rises.
According to the World Health Organisation, with access to comprehensive sexuality education, effective contraception and the provision of safe, legal induced abortion, we can end unsafe abortion and save thousands of lives every year.
To prevent unsafe abortion, we must ensure that all women and pregnant people can access services that are safe, legal and affordable. This means removing legal restrictions that prevent access, ensuring there are sufficient access points for everyone, regardless of location, and removing cost as a barrier, by covering abortion care in health coverage schemes.
To prevent people from resorting to unsafe abortion, we must improve access to contraception, too. Currently, over 257 million women worldwide want, but are not yet able to access, contraception. At MSI Reproductive Choices we are working to change this, by expanding access to high-quality contraception and comprehensive abortion care.
Young people face additional barriers to reproductive choice. Legal restrictions, stigma, community bias, and a lack of access to information mean that many adolescents are unsure about, or unable to, seek the services they need.
This lack of access is putting young people’s futures at risk. MSI’s analysis found that every year across sub-Saharan Africa, 4 million girls drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy. In Niger, 1 in 2 girls will give birth before their 18th birthday, while only 1 in 100 will finish secondary school.
With reproductive choice, we can give young people control over their futures, by supporting them to avoid unintended pregnancy, stay in school and complete their education.
Sibeso is an MSI provider in Zambia. She travels directly to communities in MSI Zambia’s mobile provider caravans to provide young people with reproductive healthcare services and information. “I’m passionate about the work I do because these services help girls stay in school and take control of their lives,” Sibeso told us.
Access to reproductive choice can also save young people’s lives. Young people are at higher risk of complications during pregnancy and are more likely to resort to unsafe abortion. As a result, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15–19 globally, while teenage girls account for nearly one in three unsafe abortion deaths.
As Sibeso shared, “young people losing their lives due to unsafe abortion can be prevented by giving girls access to the information they need.”
I’m passionate about the work I do because these services help girls take control of their lives.
At MSI Reproductive Choices, as a global provider and advocate for sexual and reproductive healthcare, we believe that everyone should have the right to decide their own future, on their terms.
Our work spans 37 countries providing reproductive healthcare including contraception, safe abortion and post-abortion care. We open doors for those with no alternative access. Break down stigma. And go the last mile to make reproductive choice possible for those who need us.
For some, reproductive choice means the ability to complete their education or start a career. For others, it means being able to look after their existing family. For everyone, choice means the freedom to determine their own body and their own future, creating a fairer, more equal world for all.
At MSI, our ambition is bold: we our working towards a world where no abortion will be unsafe and everyone who wants contraception will have access it. To get there, we’re putting choice, in all its iterations and forms, at the heart of everything we do.
We have a way to go before achieving our vision of a world where reproductive choice is a reality for all.
257 million women and girls are still unable to access contraception and every year, millions of women make the agonising decision to have an unsafe abortion, because no safe alternative is available.
Together, we can transform access to reproductive choice. To stay up-to-date on the latest news, events and campaigns, join our community of reproductive rights activists by subscribing to our email updates.
You can also support our work to enable reproductive choice globally. 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. Help us save lives with reproductive choice.