Global health anthropology

Improving women's journeys through abortion

The International Federation of Professional Abortion and Contraception Associates (FIAPAC) held its biannual conference in Lisbon, Portugal 13-15 October 2016.

Ingrid Solhem, Mette Løkeland and Emily McLean
Ingrid Solheim, Mette Løkeland and Emily McLean at the FIAPAC conference in Lisbon

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The main theme of the conference, "Improving women's journeys through abortion", was explored through a wide variety of workshops and presentations.

It started with a pre-conference about decriminalisation of abortion. This was one of the highlights of the conference as it was both informative and interactive bringing together researchers, health providers and activists. The session was led by Ann Furedi from the UK, leader of BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) and Marge Berer, editor of the scientific journal Reproductive Health Matters. The aim was to discuss the meaning of decriminalisation and how it can be achieved.

During the official days of the conference there were several excellent plenary sessions, for example the presentations of Rebecca Gomperts from Women on Waves and Gilda Sedgh from Guttmacher Institute. The later has been leading a research group that has just published the incidents of induced abortion in the world. We also learned about the recent changes in laws and services concerning abortion in Portugal and about the challenges still remaining. Portugal is one of the last European countries that have legalized abortion, and is an example of where legalization has led to a decrease in mortality and morbidity related to unsafe abortion, together with improved uptake of effective contraception. There were several concurrent sessions during the day and choosing what to attend was not always easy. Amongst the highlights were:

I walk the line: when abortion is a crime organised by Catholics for Choice had invited two abortion providers: John Nyamu from Kenya and Laura Gil from Colombia. They talked about the challenges faced by abortion providers working in an environment where abortion is a crime. John had been imprisoned for a year on false accusations of providing illegal abortion services, while Laura has helped establish an organisational support network for abortion providers in Latin America.

The discovery and development of mifepristone was presented by André Ulmann, the man behind the drug.

Members of The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics led the FIGO Prevention of Unsafe Abortion session. Long standing experts in the field, Anibal Faúndes from Brazil and Jaydeep Tank from India held interesting and inspirational presentations where the main issues discussed were how to overcome stigma in abortion and how medical providers can make a difference.

In the session What’s topical in Europe, Christian Fiala from Austria made a powerful presentation about conscientious objection refuting all its scientific and political arguments.

The conference gathered together participants from many different fields; clinicians, both qualitative and quantitative researchers, students, NGOs and product developers. From Norway members from Sex og Politikk (IPPF Norway) and Amathea also participated with posters about their services. Marianne Kjelsvik from NTNU Aalesund and the University of Bergen presented her study with the poster: Pregnant and ambivalent - Norwegian women’s experiences when ambivalent in the decision making process in the first trimester.

The next FIAPAC conference will be held in 2018 in Nantes, France.