Global Safe Abortion Day: every woman has the right to be in control of her body

Published 28th September 2017

Around the world, women who need an abortion are being forced to resort to backstreet clinics and life-threatening “alternative” methods. In Burkina Faso, some women drink coffee mixed with antibiotics. In the Gaza Strip, some women breathe in harmful chemicals.

Doctors of the World’s medics see first-hand how women suffer when they can’t access safe and legal abortions – the examples above are just two glimpses into our findings in the countries where we work. As the world marks Safe Abortion Day on 28 September, we’re calling for every woman to be able to get the medical care she needs.

“We believe every woman has the right to be in control of her body, and to decide if and when to have children,” says Leigh Daynes, executive director of Doctors of the World UK. “Following Donald Trump’s outrageous decision to reinstate the “Global Gag Rule”, it’s more important than ever to stand up for this right.”

Almost 1 in 2 women live in countries where abortion is banned, restricted or not accessible. This year, US President Donald Trump has also cut funding for several charities that provide or counsel women on terminations.

Research released today shows that almost half of all abortions globally are unsafe, including 8 million terminations a year that use highly risky methods such as inserting wires into women’s bodies. Unsafe abortions kill tens of thousands of women a year, and mean that at least 7 million more end up in hospital.

Giving women access to family planning services, which include safe abortions, avoids these health risks and also boosts their economic independence.

“If you dare abort, you’ll die!” A nurse told Merlyne (pictured above) when she became pregnant in her late teens. Merlyne lives in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where abortion is illegal in most circumstances.

As a result, Merlyne went on to have a baby for whom neither she nor her partner were ready. Merlyne worries because she and her baby are now an extra financial burden on her parents.

The Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) network works in Kinshasa to educate adolescent girls like Merlyne about their sexual and reproductive health. We’ve run similar projects for women in Nepal for a decade. In Haiti, we advocate for abortion to be decriminalised and train health workers to treat abortion-related complications.

Our network also supports the Family Planning 2020 partnership. In July, we committed to help 1 million women in 13 developing countries access family planning services and information.

Women in wealthy countries can struggle to access abortions too. Ireland bans terminations in almost all circumstances. This week, the country’s leaders announced a 2018 referendum on its abortion laws.

In the UK, Doctors of the World’s clinics help a range vulnerable people who are struggling to get healthcare, including women who wish to access abortion services. Last year we helped Helen, who was homeless and had been wrongly turned away from four NHS GP surgeries. We spent several weeks helping her to register with a GP and get the abortion she wanted.

“It was a turning point for me,” says Helen who now has a job as a chef and a place to live. “If I had had a baby while I had such a complicated life, it would not have been good for anyone. Having children is a good thing, but I couldn’t do it at that time.”

Our medics work with marginalised women in refugee camps, conflict zones, remote villages, and other tough situations around the world. Please support our work on this and other pressing medical issues by donating today.


With your support, Doctors of the World will make sure nobody suffers or dies due to lack of access to healthcare.