Language: English


Safe abortion in the context of COVID-19: partnership, dialogue and digital innovation

28 September 2021 | Departmental news

As the pandemic continues to challenge health systems capacity for delivering essential services, International Safe Abortion Day is an opportunity to celebrate global efforts to protect ongoing provision of comprehensive abortion care.

Responding to COVID-19 with flexibility, creativity and collaboration

Abortion is a health care service that saves lives and protects the health and well-being of women and girls. Understanding how organizations have adapted their safe abortion care programmes to maintain service delivery, while seeking to protect their clients, staff and communities from contracting COVID-19, is vital.

Since June 2020, HRP (the UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction) has continued to collaborate with a network of global and local stakeholders committed to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Joint activities with DKT International, Ipas, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), MSI Reproductive Choices, Pathfinder International, PSI, UNFPA  and others, demonstrate the power of knowledge sharing to safeguard access to safe and timely comprehensive abortion care (including post-abortion care) during and beyond the pandemic.

Safe abortion care in unexpected circumstances: global learning from local service delivery adaptations

Stakeholders are documenting how international organisations adapted their safe abortion care programmes in 19 countries to the evolving COVID-19 context.

Stories of resilience, digital innovation and persistent advocacy to maintain access to this sexual and reproductive health service are presented in an interactive story map.

Digital technologies are shown to play a crucial role in responding to COVID-19 challenges, for instance, with implementation of telemedicine solutions to enable self-management of abortion and expand availability of safe abortion to rural and underserved communities.  

Other successful examples of digital interventions include virtual post-abortion follow-up meetings with clients to detect potential complications, as well as maximise opportunities to provide information on post-abortion contraception, and remote communication of abortion care product information to medical practitioners and pharmacists as a means of reinforcing correct use and preventing stock-outs. 

The story map functions as a tracking and documentation tool, as well as a platform for peer-to-peer learning about how innovative approaches can support service delivery at the country level in rapidly-changing circumstances of a pandemic.  

In the coming months, HRP and partners will evaluate these and other adaptations in comprehensive abortion care provision to identify good practices – in particular, improvements which are sustainable in the long-term.

A stronger community, committed to health, human rights, and equity

Almost half of all pregnancies are unintended. Globally, abortion is a common procedure, with 3 in every 10 pregnancies ending in induced abortion. Complications are rare when abortions are safe, meaning that they are carried out using a method recommended by WHO, appropriate to the pregnancy duration, and by someone with the necessary skills.

When women face barriers to timely, affordable and safe abortion, they often resort to unsafe abortion. Global estimates reveal that nearly half of all abortions are unsafe.  Developing countries disproportionately bear the burden of 97% of all unsafe abortions.

HRP has recently launched a new community of practice on comprehensive abortion care with the IBP Network,  a platform hosted at WHO which is dedicated to fostering partnerships and knowledge exchange in family planning and sexual and reproductive health.

This virtual community brings together international organizations, researchers and local grassroots movements. United by a common dedication to protecting access to quality abortion care, individuals from around the world can register to become a member and share best practices, network, and identify opportunities for partnering.

Turning the challenges of a pandemic into an opportunity to safeguard health for all

As the pandemic exacerbates existing inequalities and puts access to safe and timely abortion at risk, it drives sexual and reproductive health stakeholders to cooperate on this critical public health and human rights issue.

This includes transparent dialogue about funding challenges. HRP and partners initiated conversations about how the pandemic has impacted their procurement of abortion commodities, to inform future strategic work on how organizations can use funds more efficiently, minimise duplication of work, and protect availability of medical abortion.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly given rise to unique opportunities for broadening the range of ways in which providers offer safe abortion services. This, in turn, can improve women’s and individuals’ abilities to attain quality comprehensive abortion care that resonates with their values, preferences and circumstances – during the pandemic, and beyond.