Maternal and reproductive health


Mapping abortion policies, programmes and services in the South-East Asia Region

Publication details

Number of pages: 36
Publication date: 2013
Languages: English
ISBN: 978-92-9022-436-5



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.