Safe Abortion: A Right for Refugees?

Abstract

Thanks to initiatives since 1994, most reproductive health programmes for refugee women now include family planning and safe delivery care. Emergency contraception and post-abortion care for complications of unsafe abortion are recommended, but provision of these services has lagged behind, while services for women who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy are almost non-existent. Given conditions in refugee settings, including high levels of sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies are of particular concern. Yet the extent of need for abortion services among refugee women remains undocumented. UNFPA estimates that 25-50% of maternal deaths in refugee settings are due to complications of unsafe abortion. Barriers to providing abortion services may include internal and external political pressure, legal restrictions, or the religious affiliation of service providers. Women too may be pressured to continue pregnancies and are often unable to express their needs or assert their rights. Abortion advocacy efforts should highlight the specific needs of refugee women and encourage provision of services where abortion is legally indicated, especially in cases of rape or incest, and risk to a woman’s physical and mental health. Implementation of existing guidelines on reducing the occurrence and consequences of sexual violence in refugee settings is also important. Including refugee women in international campaigns for expanded access to safe abortion is critical in addressing the specific needs of this population.