Access to safe abortion within the limits of the law

Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2006 Jun;20(3):421-32. doi: 10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2006.01.020. Epub 2006 Mar 24.


The World Health Organization defines unsafe abortion as a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy carried out by people lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both. The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development recommends that 'In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe'. However, millions of women still risk their lives by undergoing unsafe abortion even if they comply with the law. This is a serious violation of women's human rights, and obstetricians and gynaecologists have a fundamental role in breaking the administrative and procedural barriers to safe abortion. This chapter reviews the magnitude of the problem, its consequences for women's health, the barriers to access to safe abortion, including its legal status, the effect of the law on the rate and the consequences of abortion, the human rights implications and the current evidence on methods to perform safe abortion. This chapter concludes with an analysis of what can be done to change the current situation.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Criminal
  • Abortion, Legal / adverse effects
  • Abortion, Legal / standards*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Women's Health*
  • Women's Rights