Safe abortion for HIV-positive women with unwanted pregnancy: a reproductive right

Reprod Health Matters. 2003 Nov;11(22):152-61. doi: 10.1016/s0968-8080(03)02297-3.


About 2.5 million women who become pregnant each year worldwide are HIV-positive. UNAIDS recommends that HIV-positive women should be able to control their fertility and to prevent HIV transmission perinatally if they decide to have children. Yet a literature review on these matters found that termination of pregnancy for HIV-positive women receives very little attention. This paper describes the difficulties faced by HIV-positive women in obtaining safe, legal, affordable abortion services. It shows that voluntary HIV counselling and testing for women seeking induced abortions and post-abortion care may not be provided. HIV-positive women want to avoid pregnancy for the same reasons as other women, but they also do not want to infect their partners through unprotected sex, worry about effects of pregnancy and childbirth on their own health, or about infecting a child and the child's future care. Little research has been done on whether HIV-positive women have a greater risk of morbidity following unsafe abortions than HIV-negative women, but evidence suggests they might. Studies in Zimbabwe and Thailand show that when information and access to legal pregnancy termination are lacking, HIV-positive women may be prevented from terminating a pregnancy. The paper concludes that it is essential for women living with HIV/AIDS to be able to exercise their right to decide whether and when to have children.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Counseling
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • HIV Seropositivity / psychology*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted*
  • Safety
  • Women's Rights*