Malawi’s punitive abortion law—based on a colonial law dating back to 1861—puts women, girls and health providers at risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment. The only legal exception is for abortion performed to save a woman’s life. These dangerous and restrictive conditions contribute to the country’s high rate of unsafe abortion. Malawi has one of the world’s highest maternal death rates, and unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes—accounting for up to 18% of maternal deaths each year.
Since 2005, Ipas has worked with the government and other partners in Malawi to improve treatment for abortion-related complications at public health facilities and to build an advocacy movement that includes broad-based support for improved access to safe abortion care. In 2009, Ipas Malawi collaborated with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization to conduct a national strategic assessment of abortion in the country. Informed by the findings of the assessment, in 2010 Ipas helped to establish the Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA), which educates the public on unsafe abortion and builds grassroots momentum for law reform. COPUA’s members include community-based organizations, youth-focused non-governmental organizations, policymakers, traditional leaders and others, and its membership has nearly tripled in size since its inception. The coalition engages with the community through a wide range of activities, including workshops, educational dramas and radio programs.