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The Ipas Story

Beginning in 1971, the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Population funded Battelle Laboratories’ work to develop nonelectric vacuum aspiration for uterine evacuation.  But in 1973, Congress passed the Helms Amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act, prohibiting the use of any US foreign aid to support abortion services overseas. In response, a group of researchers and others affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill came together to complete development of the manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) technology that Battelle had begun. IPAS — International Pregnancy Advisory Services — was born.

Along with the manufacture and distribution of MVA instruments, Ipas’s initial focus was on establishing freestanding abortion clinics in developing countries. Between 1974 and 1980, Ipas supported the opening of 13 clinics in 11 countries.

Throughout the 80s and early 90s, Ipas increased its role in the international health arena, helping to increase understanding that unsafe abortion is a significant cause of maternal deaths and injuries, and therefore a public health concern. Ipas coined the term “postabortion care,” which was rapidly embraced by the reproductive health community, including USAID. We undertook important research to inform health systems and guide decisionmaking for service delivery. We began working with national and international policymakers to improve reproductive health policies at every level. And we continued to train health-care providers to deliver woman-centered abortion and postabortion care to the full extent of the law in their countries.

We quickly outgrew our original name. But because we were well-known in international reproductive health circles, we didn’t want to lose it completely. Hence, we left the acronym behind and became simply “Ipas” in 1993.

Today, Ipas’s mission comprehensively responds to the full range of factors that affect women’s reproductive health and rights—factors like sexual violence, stigma, lack of information, and lack of access to contraception and abortion care. We strive to enhance every woman’s ability to obtain comprehensive abortion care and prevent unwanted pregnancy.  

From humble beginnings in a small North Carolina town, Ipas now has offices in 14 countries, staffed by local people. Our success lies in part in our ability to identify great partners to move our work forward. From the beginning, we’ve developed effective relationships with reproductive health champions in communities, in health systems and in partner organizations.

Recognizing that sustainable supplies of reproductive health products are an essential component of abortion care, Ipas established WomanCare Global in 2009 to make products more widely available. WomanCare Global is now an independent UK-based charity. But we remain close partners with a common mission to bring comprehensive expertise and capacity to support women in making their own reproductive decisions.