Sexual and reproductive health

Preventing unsafe abortion

HRP's work

Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Marie Stopes International

Unsafe abortion – defined as a procedure for terminating an unwanted pregnancy either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking minimal medical standards or both – results in the deaths of 47 000 women every year and leaves millions temporarily or permanently disabled. Yet unsafe abortions are almost entirely preventable: they are a result of unmet need for family planning, contraceptive failure, a lack of information about contraception, and restricted access to safe abortion services.

As noted in WHO’s Global Strategy on Reproductive Health, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2004: “As a preventable cause of maternal mortality and morbidity, unsafe abortion must be dealt with as part of the MDG on improving maternal health and other international development goals and targets.” HRP’s work in this area responds to this call, as well as to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which urged countries and organizations “to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern”.

Overall strategy

HRP’s overall strategy comprises four inter-related activities:

  • to collate, synthesize and generate scientifically sound evidence on unsafe abortion prevalence and practices;
  • to develop improved technologies and implement interventions to make abortion safer;
  • to translate evidence into norms, tools and guidelines;
  • to assist in the development of programmes and policies that reduce unsafe abortion and improve access to safe abortion and high-quality postabortion care.

Work in the area of prevention of unsafe abortion is done exclusively within the UNDP/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP).