Towards Making Safe Abortion A Reality

September 29, 2016

The Regional Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Fund, established by Hivos and the Ford Foundation, is a regional fund committed to supporting initiatives that establish, protect and advance Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for all people living in Southern Africa, especially women and children.

The right to accessing a safe legal abortion is integral to this, and on International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September 2016, the Fund aligns itself with a range of civil society organizations and stakeholders in the Southern Africa Region, the wider Africa region and globally to call on policy makers and governments to make this a reality for women and girls in the Southern Africa Region.

Today is International Safe Abortion Day but for many women across Southern Africa, a safe abortion is not an option. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe abortion continues to be a public health crisis and is one of the largest contributors of maternal mortality and morbidity in Africa, accounting for up to 30% of maternal deaths in many sub-Saharan countries. The WHO estimates that over 6 million unsafe abortions occur in Africa resulting in 29,000 deaths and countless serious injuries and disabilities every year for poor, mostly rural based African women and girls under the age 25.

The Regional Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Fund fully supports the initiative by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to decriminalize abortion in Africa, as fundamental to protecting the human rights of women and girls on the continent.  It welcomes this campaign as it serves to highlight the right to access a safe abortion as integral to comprehensive sexual and reproductive service package for women and girls.

Termination of pregnancy, both as a policy and a rights issue is a critical challenge facing the Southern African region because services are either restricted or excluded as part of the offering of Sexual and Reproductive Health services for women and girls. Although abortion is legal in many African states for health reasons and in the case of sexual assault, it is not legal for a woman or young girl to make a choice as to whether she wishes to be pregnant or not.

The stigma and discrimination attached to abortion often pushes women to seek a ‘backstreet’ abortion using harmful measures which is unsafe and could be fatal. The denial of women and girls’ right to access a safe abortion represents clear discrimination against women and girls, and a form of structural violence against them, given the dire health and life consequences of women and girls being forced to access unsafe services. Accessing the service is an important health right, which when not provided, is directly discriminatory against women and girls.

The Fund supports:

  • The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ continental Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Africa;
  • Improved women’s access to contraception and safe abortion;
  • Initiatives that remove barriers to access a safe abortion; and
  • Initiatives that de-stigmatize abortion.

Every woman has the right to make decisions on her sexual and reproductive health. Governments must support this right.