Despite undeniable progress in expanding women’s access to safe abortion worldwide, there is still a long way to go. Many countries across the globe enact policies that prevent or hinder vulnerable women and adolescent girls from accessing safe abortion services. At Marie Stopes International (MSI), we are fighting to share these women’s stories and create legislative change that removes barriers to lifesaving safe abortion care.
Current law in Nigeria restricts but does not outright ban women’s access to a safe abortion – the procedure is only allowed to save a woman’s life or, in some cases, to protect her health. In addition, the belief that abortion is illegal under all circumstances is widespread, leading many women to turn to unsafe and potentially dangerous methods.
Now, however, the Health Ministry has approved national safe abortion guidelines. These new guidelines – which Marie Stopes Nigeria played a major role in developing - are designed to reduce needless death caused by unsafe abortion and mark a major milestone for women’s health and rights in the country.
They send a very clear message that abortion is not illegal in Nigeria, and also include medication abortion as an option for women. This creates the opportunity to increase access and ensures that women have access to safe services.
Burkina Faso, as well, is seeing a paradigm shift.
Over the past few years, Marie Stopes Burkina Faso has worked with a variety of non-governmental organizations and other partners to advocate for changes to the country’s abortion laws.
In May, those efforts were realized when revisions were made that will mean easier access to abortion services for Burkinabe women:
- The requirement that two doctors authorize an abortion in cases where there is a risk to the woman’s health has been revised. The new law states that only one doctor’s signature is required, and that this doctor doesn't have to work in a public health facility.
- The timeframe in which a survivor of rape and incest can request an abortion has been significantly increased, from ten to fourteen weeks of pregnancy.
- Finally, the requirement for a survivor to prove the rape or incest has been removed.
Finally, after four years of advocacy led by Marie Stopes Zambia, a landmark achievement was secured for women in the country.
Zambian law permits abortion under a range of circumstances, including physical and mental health. However, lack of awareness, no clear guidance and the requirement for three doctors' signatures - in a country where the ratio of doctors to people is one to 12,000 - meant that accessing services was virtually impossible.
But new abortion guidelines just approved by the Zambian Health Minister have the potential to significantly reduce unsafe abortions in the country. These new guidelines:
- Reduce the requirement to one doctor’s signature for emergency cases.
- Provide clear guidance on emergency cases. They state that providers should “not only consider the present circumstances but also the foreseeable circumstances, including the risk of unsafe abortion.”
No matter where she is, every woman should have access to safe and legal abortion. We will continue our advocacy in these countries and others to ensure that happens.