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Hearts and minds must be changed to support safe abortion care and family planning, RCOG President tells international congress

News 21 March 2017

Around 22 million unsafe abortions take place around the world each year, resulting in the preventable deaths of nearly 50,000 women. Another 5 million women suffer serious injuries as a result of complications due to unsafe abortions, often leading to chronic and life changing disabilities.

Safe abortion should be available and accessible to all women to the full extent that the local law allows and yet, in many countries around the world, this is not the case. In South Africa, despite the introduction of a liberal abortion law in 1997, it is estimated that 50% of abortions remain unsafe.

Improving access to safe abortion care and family planning will be debated on the international stage during the 2017 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) World Congress in South Africa. More than 2,000 delegates from 77 countries are expected to attend the event at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (20-22 March), where a wide range of issues affecting women’s healthcare globally will be discussed.

Professor Lesley Regan, President of the RCOG, will examine the challenges surrounding abortion care in the UK and overseas, and explain what the College is doing to improve access to and the quality of services. Her presentation, Abortion care – bridging the gap between policy and reality, will be followed by a high level panel discussion involving internationally renowned experts, titled Sister outsider: Why do abortion and family planning services remain out of reach for women and girls. Following this, Professor Regan will join Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, a former RCOG President, for a plenary session entitled Changing hearts and minds: The learning curve.

Professor Regan will also provide an update on the RCOG’s Leading Safe Choices initiative which has been piloted in South Africa and Tanzania. This potentially transformative programme, aiming to expand contraceptive choice and improve access to safe abortion services, has so far led to the training of more than 340 healthcare workers in South Africa and Tanzania. As a result of this initiative, there has been a significant increase in the local uptake of long acting, reversible contraceptives such as the intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD). The IUCD provides women with a reliable and inexpensive family planning method which prevents unintended pregnancies and consequently unsafe abortions, thereby saving the lives of many girls and women.

Professor Lesley Regan, President of the RCOG, said:

“The rhetoric around abortion care, both nationally and internationally, often leaves little room for thoughtful, open debate centred on women’s needs. Changing the hearts and minds of communities, healthcare professionals, policy makers and health system managers is crucial if we are to successfully address the barriers that girls and women face accessing safe, high quality healthcare.

“Access to family planning and safe abortion care saves lives and reduces ill health among women and their children. According to the World Health Organisation, some 225 million women around the world have no access to family planning, leaving them with little control over whether they become pregnant. Providing these women with effective contraception could prevent as many as 24 million abortions and 6 million miscarriages in addition to 70,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths.  

“Reducing the incidence of unsafe abortion remains an urgent public health imperative and improving access to comprehensive reproductive health services protects the health of girls and women and upholds their basic human rights and dignity.”

“Guaranteeing access to available, acceptable, high quality family planning information and services, free from coercion, discrimination, and violence, is critical to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.”


Women’s right to receive safe and timely healthcare will be the focus of the 2017 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) World Congress in Cape Town from 20-22 March. The cutting edge scientific programme of daily plenary sessions and simultaneous lectures will also feature presentations from experts including:

  • Atul Gawande – The checklist effect: From surgery to childbirth
  • Ariadne Labs – The impact of the BetterBirth trial on birth practices, maternal mortality and morbidity, and newborn mortality
  • Mitchell Besser – Mothers-to-mothers to be: How we changed the impact of HIV on African women and children
  • Kerry Louw – Substance abuse in pregnancy: The medical challenge
  • Rob Norman – Obesity and under nutrition in reproduction
  • Roger Lobo – Menopause Hormone Therapy – The window of opportunity
  • Michael Pepper – Gender and sexual diversity
  • Naeemah Abrahams – Gender-based violence: Is there light at the end of the tunnel
  • Josephine Kulea, Janice Rymer and Seynabou Tall – FGM: Community advocacy and mandatory reporting – conversation about different approaches to the same problem
  • Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya

For more information or a copy of the Congress programme, please visit

For more information on the RCOG’s Leading Safe Choices initiative, please visit

International media inquiries:
Eclipse Public Relations – Kirsten Smith
082 820 3920 /

UK media inquiries:
RCOG – Tara Meakins
0207 772 6357 / 07715 677 224 /

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.