The right to decide if and when to be a mother: Accessing care for safe pregnancy, abortion, and birth

April 2016

As Ibis Reproductive Health celebrates the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, we recognize the right that each woman has to dignity, respect, and health care that empowers her to decide if and when to be a mother. Access to maternal and reproductive health care is central to women’s freedom, and safe, high-quality abortion care is an integral part of these services.

In many places, legislation and local context isolate abortion from other reproductive and maternal health care. In the United States, the Hyde Amendment prohibits funding for abortion through federally-funded health insurance programs like Medicaid, while the Helms Amendment prevents international funding for abortion through US foreign aid. Ipas and Ibis recently released a comprehensive report on how these Amendments harm women in the United States and around the world. These policies violate human rights, impose barriers on access to safe abortion for women, and tie the hands of the health-care providers who serve them. The harms of these Amendments are disproportionately felt by young, poor, women of color across the globe.

When abortion is alienated from its due place in the spectrum of reproductive health services, women, providers, and communities face increased levels of stigma. Abortion stigma prevents women from accessing information needed to make critical decisions about their health and their families, and creates a hostile social climate for women and abortion providers. In some places, stigma reduces access and forces women to seek unsafe services, which increase the risks of maternal mortality and morbidity. Stigmatizing attitudes translate into punitive laws, judgmental and hostile behaviors, and inequitable systems of care. Ibis has worked since 2013 to fight abortion stigma around the world, carrying out innovative research and providing technical support to service-delivery organizations to assess stigma among their target populations and to develop, implement, and evaluate pilot interventions to reduce stigma. Destigmatizing abortion helps create a more open, civil, and constructive environment for reproductive health policy decision-making. By building the evidence base on abortion stigma and supporting service-delivery organizations and other groups to implement effective interventions, we hope to ultimately increase access to safe, affordable, high-quality abortion care for women worldwide.

Too often, when considering maternal health we mistakenly limit our focus to childbearing and childbirth. In the US, one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, and many spend the majority of their reproductive years avoiding pregnancy. In recognition of the diverse and complex lives that women live, we must appreciate the important role that abortion care has in maternal health and rights. Ibis envisions a world with universal access to safe, affordable, high-quality abortion and reproductive health care, grounded in medical evidence and driven by women’s priorities.