Mapping abortion policies, programmes and services in the South-East Asia Region
The need to improve maternal health is identified as one of the key Millennium
Development Goals, with a target of reducing global levels of maternal mortality by
three-quarters between 1990 and 2015. Women lack knowledge of family
planning methods and have limited access to family planning services, which
results in unwanted pregnancies. Women die because of complications arising as
a result of unsafe abortion. An estimated 21.6 million unsafe abortions took
place globally in 2008, resulting in 47 000 pregnancy-related deaths and 5 million
women suffering temporary or permanent disabilities. Of these, an estimated
10.8 million unsafe abortions were reported to have taken place in Asia.
Restrictive legal provisions, non-availability of national standards and guidelines
to guide abortion provision, lack of availability of trained service providers and
registered facilities are some of the leading reasons for unsafe abortions and the
resulting high maternal mortality and morbidity.
Abortion is permitted in all countries of the South-East Asia Region, at least when there is a threat to the pregnant woman's life. Liberal abortion laws alone cannot ensure safe abortion. There are many barriers that delay access to safe abortion services, both within the laws binding provision of abortion as well as health service delivery guidelines, availability of an adequate number of facilities and trained abortion providers. The WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia mapped the legal situation, the existing policies and guidelines regulating abortion service delivery, as well as identified the gaps in making safe abortion a reality for women in the Region.