How does access to safe abortion progress in restrictive contexts? Historical and international perspectives

Pôles Suds Seminar co-organized by  Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques (INED), Paris,

Centre d’Etudes Population et Développement (CEPED), Paris and University of Geneva (UNIGE), Geneva

 8 December 2015

Organizers: Fabrice Cahen (INED), Agnès Guillaume (IRD/CEPED), Clémentine Rossier (University of Geneva/ INED)

The issue of abortion safety is often approached through a comparison of abortion laws and arguments for or against legalization. These approaches tend to obscure the concrete strategies actually undertaken in the field to improve access to safe abortion in restrictive contexts.

An historical perspective is particularly helpful in shedding light on present conditions surrounding abortion legality and safety. The prohibition of abortion, although it has strong repercussions on women’s lives and health, has never prevented its practice because of the capacity of implicated actors to get organized -most often clandestinely- and to develop or use to their advantage new technologies.

The dominant status quo from a global perspective since the late twentieth century conceals substantial diversity in terms of effective and safe access to abortion. Data shows that access to abortion depends largely on local and informal initiatives. These forms of action do improve the conditions in which abortion is practiced and may in the long term bring about a change in perceptions of, if not regulations to, abortion. International incentives for improving post-abortion care (presented as policies for combating maternal deaths) have made it possible to train practitioners in current uterine evacuation techniques; these techniques can then be applied for performing induced abortions. And the diffusion of Misoprostol, a medical abortion drug readily available in pharmacies, online and through informal channels, is having an impact on abortion accessibility, especially as women can now get instructions for use on the internet or from activist-run hotlines.

This seminar will pertain to varied historical and geographical contexts and address the following cross-cutting issues. Can these micro-changes in abortion practice make real inroads into altering abortion restrictions? Are systems or practices for skirting abortion laws as effective as political, legislative and legal battles? Do micro-changes in abortion practice push political and legal battles forward or do they tend to deactivate them?