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Safe abortion

Last edited: February 25, 2011

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  • The International Conference on Population and Development (1994) Programme of Action recognizes the importance of safe abortion, stating that “...abortion care should be an integral part of primary health care (para 7.6) and that “In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe (para 8.25).” At the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in June 1999, governments further agreed that “in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, health systems should train and equip health-service providers and should take other measures to ensure that such abortion is safe and accessible. Additional measures should be taken to safeguard women’s health” (WHO, 2003a).
  • Among the many other negative health outcomes of violence against women and girls, unwanted pregnancies are one problem that may be compounded by the fact that women and girls who experience violence are often less likely to access family planning information, contraceptives, and other forms of reproductive health care.
  • Unwanted pregnancies can result in unsafe abortions when women and girls try to end their pregnancy themselves or through unaccredited or “back alley” services. 
  • Pregnancy risk should be assessed in all female survivors of reproductive age and appropriate emergency contraception provided.  In settings where abortion is legal, termination of pregnancy should be discussed and health care facilities serving survivors of violence against women should either make no-cost or low-cost abortion services available, or should have referrals for women seeking abortion.


For guidance on abortion across the health care system, see:

Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems (2003). World Health Organization.  Available in Azerbaijani, Bosnian, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

 Additional Resources: 

For a range of technical and policy guidance on Preventing Unsafe Abortion see the World Health Organization website.

Women-Centered Abortion Care: Reference Manual (Hyman, A. and Castleman, L./Ipas, 2007). Available in English and Spanish.  

 Violence, pregnancy and abortion:  Issues of Women’s Rights and Public Health (De Bruyn, M./Ipas 2003).  Available in English.