Access to Safe Abortion

The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health was first enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as long ago as 1948 but the right to access safe abortion is still denied to many women around the world.  40 percent of women of childbearing age live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws. 1Their ability to choose whether to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is explicitly compromised and they are forced to seek unsafe methods, risking legal action and seriously endangering their own health.  Even in countries where abortion laws are less conservative, access to services is often limited by inadequate provision and financial and cultural barriers. 

Widespread stigma and discrimination surrounds abortion.  Despite the fact that each year an estimated 41.6 million abortions take place worldwide2,  and almost half of these are unsafe, abortion is rarely talked about.  It is a social taboo, yet a staggeringly common phenomenon with devastating consequences for the women themselves, their families and communities. One in ten pregnancies end in an unsafe abortion and every 7 minutes a woman dies as a result.  This means nearly 70,000 deaths annually with many more women requiring treatment and suffering long-term ill effects. This extraordinary rate leaves few lives untouched in some way by this catastrophe and makes access to safe abortion a central issue in our work towards realising universal sexual and reproductive health and rights.


1“Abortion Worldwide,” p.4
2“Abortion Worldwide:  A Decade of Uneven Progress,” Guttmacher Institute, October 2009, p.17.