Abortion is legally restricted in Bolivia, so many women and girls seek to end unwanted pregnancies themselves using medical abortion drugs they obtain from pharmacies or elsewhere. Recognizing the possible harm these women and girls will face if they don’t have accurate information on how to safely use the medications, Ipas Bolivia has adopted a harm-reduction approach. The team is training volunteer “community agents” who provide women with the information they need.
“We know there’s a lack of good information out there,” says Ipas Bolivia Country Director Malena Morales, noting that the internet contains both correct and incorrect information on abortion self-care, and it can be difficult for women to tell the difference. “The information that community agents are providing is vital,” she says.
Ipas Bolivia has spent years training community-based groups on sexual and reproductive health and rights, helping to build a grassroots movement for safe, legal abortion—and many devoted advocates for abortion rights. Now Ipas is harnessing the motivation of these advocates and training them on how women can safely use medications on their own to end unwanted pregnancies.
Abortion is only permitted in Bolivia in cases of rape, incest and immediate risk to a woman’s health or life. Consequently, unsafe abortion is the third leading cause of maternal death, and an estimated 185 women undergo clandestine and often unsafe abortions every day.
“We’ve been trained all these years, and now we’re able to be a helping hand for women—to help each and every one avoid this type of death [from unsafe abortion],” says one of the community agents.
Motivated to save lives
Equipped with new knowledge and educational materials, community agents are connecting with women during educational sessions and informal chats on sexual and reproductive health.
“The community agents we’ve trained have been very motivated to share this critical information because they know it’s going to save women’s lives,” says Ipas Bolivia Program Manager Adela Yapu.
Research and evidence show that women can safely and effectively self-manage abortion with pills, but they need accurate information on the dosing regimen and how to handle any complications. Ipas decided to begin this work after conducting a study in Bolivia that found women often turn to support groups or feminist groups for information about abortion self-care.
“If women want to learn from community members they know and trust, then we want to be training those individuals to ensure they are knowledgeable and can provide information that reduces the harms women will face,” Morales says.
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