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Reducing access to abortion puts lives in danger

04 Jul 2022

Katrina Penney is President of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia. She has worked in Afghanistan, Nepal, Yemen, Haiti and Sierra Leone as a nurse, midwife, hospital manager and field coordinator.

MSF statement access to abortion

The overturning of the constitutional right to abortion in the US this week, enshrined since the Roe vs Wade ruling of 1973, has brought attention to the issue of access to safe abortion care worldwide and how this essential service needs safeguarding from political debate.

Safe abortion care is essential healthcare. As a medical-humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) provides safe abortion care as a critical part of our comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare services. In MSF Australia, the Sydney-based Medical Unit contributes internationally to ensure women and girls have access to all the care they need to promote their health and wellbeing, without exclusion from safe abortion care.

Safe abortion care is essential healthcare. As a medical-humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) provides safe abortion care as a critical part of our comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare services.

Katrina Penney
President of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

Banning abortion does not lead to no abortions – it leads to unsafe abortions. When people do not have access to safe abortion they are driven to resort to extremely unsafe and dangerous methods. The result is that unsafe abortion remains one of the leading causes of maternal mortality globally.

Each year tens of thousands of women die as a result of unsafe abortion, and an estimated 7 million women are hospitalised with complications of unsafe abortion such as bleeding and infection.We have witnessed this directly in our own maternity departments and emergency rooms around the world, with patients experiencing complications such as severe bleeding and septic shock—and death. They may also face long-term consequences such as infertility and chronic pain.Yet unsafe abortion and its consequences are completely preventable, through the provision of safe abortion care.

Thankfully, in Australia and New Zealand much progress has been made in recent years to legalise abortion and reduce other barriers to care. But we know that access is not equitable, with many women facing obstacles, particularly those living in rural and remote areas or belonging to marginalised groups.

As my colleague MSF USA President Dr Africa Stewart has said this week: “It is shocking to see the US moving backward just as many other countries are moving forward to expand access to safe abortion care. Safe abortion care should be accessible to everyone everywhere.”

We continue to encourage efforts to increase access for women who need safe abortion care at home and globally – women’s and girls’ lives depend on it.