There are more than 1.8 million unsafe abortions in West Africa each year. An assessment of abortion care needs and opportunities in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa conducted in 2015 found there is “a vast unmet need” for comprehensive abortion care services in the region. Even though most countries have legal provisions for abortion—such as to protect the life and health of the woman and in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormalities—in many countries these laws have not been translated into actual services for women. There also are strong cultural, religious and political opponents to comprehensive abortion care, in addition to other barriers, such as stigma and lack of awareness of the legality of abortion.
In collaboration with national, international and community-based partners, Ipas’s Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa regional program is working with eight Francophone nations—Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger and Togo—to overcome political and cultural barriers and significantly expand programs providing safe abortion. Ipas also works with diverse partners to train and educate legal professionals, youth activists and leaders in sexual and reproductive health and rights to build a network of committed champions for safe, legal abortion.
Some of the greatest sexual and reproductive health needs on the African continent are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where women and girls struggle to access contraception and face high rates of unintended pregnancy and sexual violence. Many resort to clandestine, unsafe abortions and risk death and injury as a result. Abortion had long been legally restricted in the DRC, but the conditions under which women can legally access abortion were greatly expanded in 2018 to include in cases of sexual assault, rape or incest, and when a continued pregnancy would endanger the mental and physical health of the woman or the life of the woman or the fetus.
Ipas is now working with local partners to educate all relevant stakeholders—including women and communities—on women’s newly expanded right to access safe abortion. We are also conducting research on abortion-related stigma and its impact on women’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to abortion and contraception. In addition, we will work with the Ministry of Health and key partners to draft new standards and guidelines for comprehensive abortion care.