September 2015

Abortion myth-busting and sex education are key to ensuring women’s rights as human rights

By Sarah Soysa, volunteer at the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka

Abortion myth-busting is urgently needed, as I discovered from several consultations and social media dialogues we had recently in Sri Lanka. Even today many people say that women can use contraception to avoid pregnancy, without knowing the realities of stigma around access to contraception and the lack of youth friendly health centres in the country. There is still a lack of understanding of the importance of providing comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in schools. And still, the argument of “why can’t she place the child for adoption” is used too often, failing to realize that a woman shouldn’t go through a pregnancy if it will affect her physical, mental, emotional or social well-being. Estimates suggest that up to 125,000-175,000 clandestine (or ‘illegal’) abortions take place every year.[1] Nearly 12% of maternal deaths in Sri Lanka are due to unsafe abortions – the second most common cause of direct maternal deaths. It must also be noted that sources suggest that 86% – 96 % of these abortions are sought by married women. This busts the biggest myth that unmarried, so called ‘promiscuous’ young women seek abortion the most.

Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka recently had a national ‘Think Tank’ with medical professionals, journalists, movie makers, youth, charity workers, medical students and government ministry representatives on issues related to unsafe abortion – what we as young people can do and what we need the authorities to support us with. The discussions brought up the lack of accurate information for young people on their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the issues related to a lack of support for health care providers as a result of stigma and legal restrictions. This diverse group of stakeholders and other supporters will hopefully increase the legitimacy of  national voices and result in an increase in visibility and a change in the existing law.

The Sustainable Development Goals that will be adopted this month include both comprehensive sexuality education for everyone and reproductive health and rights in order to ensure that young people have the right to make informed choices on their sexuality. This should result in issues related to SRHR and unsafe abortion being addressed at both the local and national levels. In the meantime, we must work on strengthening evidence-based information on unsafe abortion and also on safe abortion methods such as medical abortion. We need to build a youth movement to advocate for progressive policy changes which look at access to abortion as a human right.

In Sri Lanka, we recently started a hotline to provide accurate information on contraception and medical abortion, helping women to make informed choices about their reproductive health and avoid unsafe methods of abortion. The hotline enables women to use Misoprostol correctly for a safe abortion and their stories of unmet need are documented to advocate for changes in the law related to abortion.

Along with legal changes we strongly need sexuality and relationship education to go hand in hand with advocacy on abortion access. Youth-friendly non-judgemental health services will further strengthen the discourse. Till that day we young people will be advocating: “Nothing for us without us”.

[1] Women and Media Collective (2014). Country Profile on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Prepared for ARROW. Colombo.


Addressing Abortion Stigma from the Grassroots

By Elorm Kwasi Adawudu and Wise Alorvi, Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana

Growing up as a young child, I did not have the privilege of discussing issues about sex with my parents probably because they thought discussing such issues would make me irresponsible. I had to rely on my school mates to pick up snippets of information about my sexual health. Looking back, I wonder what I would have done if my friends provided me with the wrong information.

I am sure many young people in Ghana and other developing countries relate to my story. Whereas some might be fortunate to receive some information on how to lead healthy sexual lives, the message is basically centered around abstinence and less focused on protection, and often mute on available options. We are taught to “say no” but not aware of what to say “yes” to. This makes young people rely on their peers for information on their reproductive health. However, we need to ask if the information young people receive from their peers is accurate, enough or even timely; especially on more sensitive topics such as abortion, which is considered a taboo topic in many circles.

ghana youth interviews
Youth volunteers deliver outreach at the University

The knowledge gap in communicating on sexual and reproductive health issues puts young women at the risk of getting pregnant in their teens. Since we live in a society where young mothers are stigmatized, it is common for these girls to end their pregnancies by having an abortion. These young women count on their peers to assist them or rely on their own naïve experiments in trying to get rid of their pregnancies, which they mostly attempt through unsafe means.

Considering the fact that young people play a key role in addressing the information needs of their peers and influencing their decisions, young volunteers of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana have come together with a project titled #Peer2Peer to reach students in the University of Ghana with the right information on safe comprehensive abortion and family planning services. The project seeks to ensure that at least 4,100 students out of the target audience would have improved knowledge of the liberal legal provisions of safe abortion as well as being well informed to make choices about contraception.

As we roll out this critical project we hope to keep you posted on some exciting stories from the field.

The new abortion law in Macedonia hurts women and girls

By Velimir Saveski, volunteer at H.E.R.A

Two years ago, the National Parliament in Macedonia adopted the Law on Termination of Pregnancy. The new abortion law discriminates against girls and women because of many restrictive aspects such as the submission of a written request, and mandatory pre-abortion counseling with a mandatory waiting period of three days after the counseling. In order to get an abortion, one must follow all of these steps. Also, the anti-abortion law is supported by an aggressive media campaign funded by the government. This is increasing the stigma and misinformation around abortion, which impacts both women who have had an abortion, as well as women and girls who have an unwanted pregnancy and are seeking abortion information and services. In addition, in Macedonia there is no comprehensive sexuality education in schools. Young people in the country do not have access to relevant and scientific-based information related to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

With a small grant received from IPPF, young volunteers at H.E.R.A are working on a project called ‘It is about you’. In order to improve the situation in our country, we want to raise awareness among young people about abortion stigma and how it affects girls and young women. We want to demonstrate that this issue affects all of us whatever our gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual identity, cultural background. Our main activity is creating videos where girls from different ethnic groups will talk about abortion stigma in their mother tongue. This will be supported by a teaser campaign and tweet-a-thon.

So far we have conducted a values clarification meeting with H.E.R.A.’s volunteers and other young women who will participate in the project with the support of an experienced staff member from H.E.R.A . The videos are in the initial stages of development, and we are preparing tweets for the tweet-a-thon to promote the release. We hope to engage a large number of people in our campaign, and help to reduce abortion stigma by talking about the reality of abortion, and dispelling the myths around abortion which are harmful to women and girls in Macedonia.

Talking about abortion: send us your films!

As part of the ‘Youth against abortion stigma’ project we are looking for young people in IPPF Member Associations to record short films of themselves talking about abortion in their country.

The person who submits the best video will win funding to attend an SRHR training in their country!

Learning about abortion
Abortion-related stigma is the association of negative attributes with people involved in seeking, providing or supporting abortion. Abortion is stigmatized because it challenges a number of social, cultural and religious norms and values.Young people who are pregnant, and in particular those who are unmarried, often feel that they will be judged whatever choice they make, whether that is to have an abortion or continue with the pregnancy.

We want to make sure that young people around the world have better information and education on pregnancy and abortion, and here’s where you come in!

We will be putting together some short films which cover a range of common issues relating to abortion. These films will be hosted on this site, and used to increase information and awareness about abortion around the world.

We’re asking young people (aged 18-25) who work or volunteer with IPPF Member Associations to submit short film clips using the guidelines below. If selected, your clips will be part of a set of films used to educate other young people about abortion.

How to record your clips
So that the different films will follow themes, we’d like you to submit clips of yourself answering the following questions. You can choose any of the questions to answer, and you can answer as many questions as you like. Each question must be answered on a separate video and each one must be no longer than 90 seconds long.

Please record your film in English, French or Spanish.

Questions to answer:
1. How do young people in your country learn about abortion?
(For example: did you receive any education about contraception/abortion in school? Do people discuss abortion with their family/friends? Are there many myths about abortion?)
2. What is it like for a young woman in your country who has an abortion?
(For example: would she experience judgement? Is it easy for her to access safe abortion care?)
3. Why do you think it’s important to talk about abortion as part of education?
(For example: why do young people need this information? What happens when people have incorrect information about abortion/don’t speak about it?)
4. How do young people in your country receive education/information on abortion?
(Prompts: Is it possible to speak about abortion in schools/other settings? What kind of language do you use?)

Send in your videos now – the deadline for this is 30th November 2015

Please upload your video to and share the link with us. It is free to create an account and upload videos. Please share your videos with

Recording tips
Here’s an example of what your film should look like – one or two people talking directly to the camera, fairly close up (so you can see their head and shoulders).Picture of young man's head and shoulders
• Find your light! Film in brightly lit areas, but don’t point the camera directly at bright light as this will cause the image to go blurry.
• Stay steady: Rather than holding your phone or camera, it’s best to rest it on a tripod (or a table, chair, shelves etc) to keep it steady and avoid a blurry image.
• Sound is vital! While it’s important that your video looks good, the quality of your audio is perhaps even more important than the image. Unfortunately, the built-in microphone in most smartphones is not always high quality. It’s best to shoot your video in a quiet place, preferably indoors when possible with less background noise – and stay as close to the microphone as possible!
• Stay close: If someone else is filming you, staying closer to them ensures better image quality, less background noise and better focus in your videos since most smartphones use a digital zoom rather than optical zoom.
• Wide-screen please: Hold your phone horizontally so that videos played back on other screens (virtually everywhere) will look fine.

Mobile phone held horizontally
Hold your phone like this!

Please note that by sending us films, you are agreeing to your film/image being used by IPPF. If your film is accepted we will ask you to confirm that you are happy for us to use it and that you are aged 18 or over.

Decriminalizing Abortion in Chile

First published on February 27, 2015 – By IPPF WHR – Claudio Henríquez Castro, IPPF/WHR Youth Network


 The years 2014 and 2015 will be remembered in Chile as a period of significant social and political transformations. Tax, education, and election reforms, as well as the civil union agreement for straight and gay couples, are clear examples of the vanishing of the most conservative legacies of the dictatorship. Still, when political debate focuses on abortion, various social actors carry the banner of opposition with arguments based on the most traditional religion, ethics, or morals.

Statistics show that a large number of illegal abortions are performed in Chile every year; while the Ministry of Healthestimated more than 17,000 for 2012, experts believe that the actual amount is more than three times higher. In addition, women are faced with unequal access to safe abortions. High-income women can travel abroad to have the procedure done legally or are in contact with physicians who perform abortions privately and may charge more than USD 6,000. We should recall here that former Minister of Health Helia Molina discussed this situation in the media, and her decision to do so led the administration to ask for her resignation. On the other end, women who can neither afford the high cost of abortion in Chile nor travel abroad resort to dangerous, unsafe practices. These procedures are not performed by skilled professionals and hence pose a clear, significant risk to women’s health and welfare.

Recently President Michelle Bachelet introduced a bill that would decriminalize abortion in the cases of rape, fetal malformation, and to save the life of the pregnant woman – a major step forward since Chile is one the few countries that currently prohibits the procedure in all circumstances. It is the last option that has sparked the greatest debate and conflict among conservative groups in the country. For instance, the president of Chile’s Catholic Universitystated that the university’s health facilities (the UC CHRISTUS healthcare network) would not perform abortions of any kind, and this response was endorsed by several private clinics nationwide.

Now, while conservative positions opposing abortion legislation seem to be in the forefront in the political sphere and the media, it is worth noting that most young people in Chile approve of legalizing abortion under certain conditions. According to a survey carried out by the Instituto de la Juventud (Youth Institute) (INJUV), 60% of Chilean youth are in favor of decriminalization on all the above-mentioned grounds, and 87% support it at least on one of those grounds. These results reflect young people’s desire to participate in the debate. Moreover, the study revealed that they feel that the government’s actions are not addressing their sexual and reproductive health needs, and that most of them are not satisfied with the quality of sex education in the schools. Such findings summarize young people’s overall discontent with the national government’s policy, actions, and omissions concerning sexual and reproductive health.

As a young member of APROFA, I believe that in order to promote and fulfill Chilean women’s rights, the government must decriminalize abortion on the three grounds proposed in the bill. Yet I also believe that every action in favor of abortion must be strengthened by increased access to good-quality education on sexuality, reproductive health, and gender that promotes not only the appropriate use of contraception, but also respect for oneself and others.

Along with decriminalization, the government must also consider ensuring access to abortion care facilities in both the public and the private sectors with practitioners who are sensitive to this issue and high-quality equipment. The debate on abortion is closely intertwined with the debate on sex education. The legalization of abortion is a multidimensional issue, and therefore the health, education, and legal sectors must work together toward the promotion of the sexual and reproductive rights of women and of the country’s population in general.

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