Restricting access to abortion threatens women’s lives – Study

Pregnant woman used to illustrate the story
Pregnant woman used to illustrate the story

Restricting access to abortion by law does not reduce the number of abortions but only increases the risks to lives of women and girls, a new study published on Thursday by The Lancet publication has revealed.

According to the study, 25.5 million unsafe abortions were carried out yearly between 2010 and 2014 worldwide, with 97 per cent occurring in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The study which was carried out by World Health Organisation and the Guttmacher Institute said countries such as Nigeria which have anti-abortion law raise the health risk for women because most of the abortions there were illegal and often done by untrained personnel.

“In countries where abortion is completely banned or permitted only to save the woman’s life or preserve her physical health, only one in four abortions were safe; whereas, in countries where abortion is legal on broader grounds, nearly nine in 10 abortions were done safely.

Restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions”, it stated.

Abortion is illegal in Nigeria unless to save the life of the mother. This has made many women consult quacks and at times trained medical personnel who do the job clandestinely.

According to experts, unsafe abortion occurs when a pregnancy is terminated either by persons lacking the necessary skills/information or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.

According to the study, almost one-third (31 per cent) of abortions were “less safe”, meaning they were performed either by a trained provider using an unsafe or outdated method such as “sharp curettage”, or by an untrained person even if using a safe method like misoprostol, a drug used for many medical purposes, including to induce an abortion.

“About 14 per cent were “least safe” abortions provided by untrained persons using dangerous methods, such as introduction of foreign objects and use of herbal concoctions.

“Deaths from complications of unsafe abortion were high in regions where most abortions happened in the least safe circumstances. Complications from “least-safe” abortions can include incomplete abortion (failure to remove all of the pregnancy tissue from the uterus), haemorrhage, vaginal, cervical and uterine injury, and infections,” the study stated.

The study called for less restrictive laws on abortions as this will go a long way in saving women’s lives and also encourage women who have to perform the act seek the help of trained officers.

Bela Ganatra, lead author of the study and a scientist in the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said increased efforts are needed, especially in developing regions, to ensure access to contraception and safe abortion.

“When women and girls cannot access effective contraception and safe abortion services, there are serious consequences for their own health and that of their families.

“This should not happen. But despite recent advances in technology and evidence, too many unsafe abortions still occur, and too many women continue to suffer and die.”

Ms. Ganatra said to prevent unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, countries must make supportive policies and financial commitments to provide comprehensive sexuality education; a wide range of contraceptive methods, including emergency contraception; accurate family planning counselling; and access to safe, legal abortion.

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