“The best way to predict the future is to create it”

The factors contributing to the global burden of mortality and morbidity from unsafe abortions are complex and intertwined: operating from the individual to the global level. Consequently, tackling the issue of unsafe abortions requires a multi-faceted approach and the combined co-operation of governments and organisations throughout the world.

Striving towards such a feat, the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, comprising of 17 goals and 169 targets, includes goals related to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). These goals are applicable to all countries and therefore, improving SRHR has been prioritised on a global level. 


The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5, which are related to health and gender equality, have specific targets related to SRHR:

Targets in Goal 3: Health and Wellbeing

  • “3.5: Reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 to 100,000 live births” 1

The latest estimate of the global maternal mortality ratio was 210 deaths per 100,000 births; the target to reach 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030 therefore aims for a significant reduction of two-thirds.A 2013 report released by the UN Secretary-General specified unsafe abortion as a “leading cause of maternal deaths,” warning that “it is likely that the numbers of unsafe abortion will continue to increase unless women’s access to safe abortion and contraception — and support to empower women (including their freedom to decide whether and when to have a child) — are put in place and further strengthened.”When performed by appropriately trained individuals in well-equipped facilities, there is minimum morbidity associated with abortions and negligible chance of death.5 Increasing access to safe abortions services is therefore presents itself as one of the simplest solutions to reduce maternal mortality.

  • “3.7: Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes” 1

Access to safe, legal abortion can be considered a key component of sexual and reproductive health-care services, which should be accessible to all women, regardless of age, race, geographic location, marital status, religion or socio-economic status. In particular, adolescents need additional support in the form of non-judgemental, youth-friendly services which recognise their rights to access sexual and reproductive health services.6 

Targets in Goal 5: Gender Equality

  • “5.6: Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences” 2

Promoting gender equality includes recognising a woman’s right to autonomy — her capacity to independently make informed decisions about her body, her sexuality and her reproductive activity. 

Abortion legislation as well patriarchal family values impinge on women’s rights, with women resorting to unreliable, clandestine services and furthermore, being discouraged from seeking treatment for complications for fear of punishment. Historical evidence demonstrates that legalising abortion results in a decrease in the practise of unsafe abortions and the complications arising from it.

Success of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 depends significantly on the extent to which key players, including governments, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, prioritise the specific SRHR targets and begin to implement relevant policies, services and programmes to tackle these challenges. Our world needs to be united in a global effort to address the economic and social inequalities driving the practice of unsafe abortions.

To find out more about the United Nations Goals for Sustainable Development, click here


  1. United Nations. Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. New Yorks: United Nations [cited 2017 Feb 10]. Available from: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/health/
  2. United Nations. Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. New Yorks: United Nations [cited 2017 Feb 10]. Available from: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/
  3. Bongaarts J.  WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group, and United Nations Population Division Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015 Geneva: World Health Organization, 201
  4. Ki-Moon B. Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls [Internet]. New York; 2013 [cited 2017 Feb 10]. Available from: https://un.org.au/2014/01/29/challenges-and-achievements-in-the-implementation-of-the-millennium-development-goals-for-women-and-girls/
  5. Grimes DA, Benson J, Singh S, Romero M, Ganatra B, Okonofua FE, et al. Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic. The Lancet. 2006;368(9550):1908-1919.
  6. Women’s access to safe abortion in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development: Advancing maternal health, gender equality, and reproductive rights [Internet]. Chapel Hill, 2015 [cited 2017 Feb 11]. Available from: http://www.ipas.org/en/Resources/Ipas%20Publications/Womens-access-to-safe-abortion-in-2030-agengda-for-sustainable-development.aspx
  • Cover image: http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/reports/charity-fighting-every-woman-worldwide-right-children-choice-not-chance-436349
  • Sustainable Development Goals [image]: http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/09/sustainable-development-goals-setting-new-course-people-and-planet

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