Celebrating International Safe Abortion Day

By Traci L. Baird

I have had the privilege to work for more than 25 years on advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, with many of those years focused on safe abortion. My life’s work began right after college, when I took a job at a local women’s health clinic that provided abortion services. It was an eye-opening experience that informs my worldview to this day. Since then, I have known with absolute clarity that:

I am passionate about a woman's right to control her own health care, especially as it relates to pregnancy. Thank you to the health professionals who make this possible, especially abortion providers.

  • Abortion is healthcare.
  • Healthcare is a right.
  • Therefore, abortion is a right.

I believe strongly that, as with all healthcare services, abortion should be safe, legal, and available, to everyone, everywhere. Today, on International Safe Abortion Day, dozens of stories come to mind about the women I’ve met who have struggled to get abortions, about the challenges faced by healthcare professionals who provide abortions, and about an anti-abortion protester who needed–and received–an abortion and the next week was out protesting the clinic again. I also think about women who needed abortion services and were able to get high quality care, and women who found what they needed to manage their abortions themselves, successfully. Those are the stories that show how abortion care can and should work. In an ideal world, those would be the only kind of abortion stories.

In my role as President & CEO of EngenderHealth, I am pleased that we increase access to comprehensive abortion care in some of the countries where we work. (Full transparency: Although EngenderHealth unequivocally supports every person’s right to make their own decisions about sex and childbearing, our funding model prevents us from doing comprehensive abortion care support everywhere we work.)

Last year, in Ethiopia, I was reminded of the many layers of effort necessary to ensure that those who need abortions can access them: education and information for individuals; training for healthcare providers; dialogue with communities, including community leaders, to reduce abortion stigma; advocacy and policy work with governments, and more.

While there, I met a nurse and a midwife who supported women who were having second-trimester abortions. They each told me that they knew they were helping the women they served, and that this was their favorite rotation in the hospital.

I met university peer educators, who explained that many of the women in their dorm started college not knowing about sex and pregnancy, and who became pregnant without understanding how. They were grateful that the university health center offered abortion services.

And I spoke with public health officials, who showed me their clinics and were clear that the comprehensive abortion care they offered was but one critical component of the reproductive health care they offered. Contraception, cancer screening–they are meeting people’s needs in multiple, integrated ways.

On International Safe Abortion Day, we express our thanks to abortion providers who every day help people who need abortions. We celebrate those who persist in advocating for safe abortion, even when the odds are overwhelming. We celebrate the positive legal changes that have come about recently in places as different as Ireland; Oaxaca, Mexico; and New South Wales, Australia. We acknowledge the importance of abortion as healthcare and as a human right. And we renew our collective commitment to expanding access to safe abortion.