By Araceli Lopez Nava
Globally, 1 in 4 women will have abortions in their lifetime. Yet, with abortion still highly stigmatized, many of these women are silenced about their experiences.
From sub-Saharan Africa to the Southern states of America, and sadly, in my home country of Mexico, women are forced to travel, sometimes for days, to access safe abortion care. In many cases, restricted access to services, stigma and the cost and inconvenience of travel push women to unsafe methods, putting their lives at risk. In such contexts, a safe abortion becomes the privilege of the rich, while poor and marginalized women, such as single mothers and those at risk of violence, resort to unsafe and life-threatening methods.
At MSI, we have worked hard for more than 40 years to support women and girls around the world to access the high-quality, safe abortion services they need. As part of our ongoing commitment to provide women-centered services, last year we asked over 1,900 women across Africa, Asia and Latin America about their experiences of having an abortion at one of our centers. Their responses provide a unique insight into what women face every day in accessing abortion care worldwide.
Stigma poses a serious challenge to women seeking abortion care. Of the women we interviewed, nearly one in four (23.4%) reported some form of stigma: from their partner, their community or in some cases even from their providers. When women are shamed or judged for needing an abortion, they’re more likely to seek an unsafe one.
Distance and cost were also barriers to care. Women seeking abortion care traveled farther than women seeking contraception, and had a harder time gathering funds for their medical care. In Mexico, abortion is only legal in Mexico City, so access to safe abortion varies widely based on where women live. As one client said:
“I always knew that I didn’t want to have a child or not until I had done everything I wanted … it made me think a lot about other women who are in different parts of our country who don’t have access to something like that and force them to have children or die trying, and I start thinking about all those girls who need help and I think it would be important for the legalization of abortion to be legal for everyone and not just in certain areas of the country.”
Even when safe services were available, many women weren’t sure how to access them. More than half of women who visited us did not know of an alternative abortion provider. Technology is key to spreading the word about safe services, with 28.9% of women finding information on safe abortion care via the internet and social media. Another 31.2% of women found out about our center from a government or private facility, showing the importance of creating partnerships with the public and private sectors.
Every woman we talked to had received a safe service, and the majority were satisfied their experience: 63.8% said they were very likely to recommend the service to a friend.
We know that of the 56 million abortions that will occur this year, an estimated 25 million will be unsafe. This means that an estimated seven million women and girls will suffer devastating injuries and 22,000 women will die.
At MSI, we believe that no woman or girl should be forced to put her safety at risk for the right to determine her own future. We are doing everything we can to support women on their journey and challenge the abortion stigma that continues to drive women to unsafe methods.
With the Trump Administration’s Global Gag Rule and ongoing attempts to roll back reproductive rights, our mission to offer reproductive choice is more important than ever. It is time to remove barriers to access, to put women at the center of reproductive health programs and stand strong in support of a woman’s right to safe abortion care.