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New WHO abortion guidelines pivotal to end unsafe abortions globally

9 Mar 2022

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) welcome the release of the new World Health Organisation (WHO) abortion care guidelines.

The updated guidelines come at a pivotal moment to strengthen efforts to protect the health of women and girls and will help bring an end to the estimated 25 million unsafe abortions that occur yearly.[1] 

As the new guidelines reiterate, abortion is safe when using methods recommended by the WHO, appropriate for the duration of pregnancy and supported with the necessary information or skills. 

The guidelines stress the importance of providing quality abortion care and provide a range of recommendations for primary care interventions that can help achieve this. They include an increase in task sharing, ensuring access to abortion medication, and provision of accurate information about abortions.

Miss Ranee Thakar, Senior Vice President for Global Health, said: “It is a tragedy that today so many women and girls are not able to access the quality abortion care that they require. Almost every injury and death from unsafe abortion is preventable. The new WHO guidelines will be fundamental in guiding the way to a world where no more people will die as a result of having unsafe abortions.”

The guidelines also call for the removal of all unnecessary policy barriers that restrict abortion care access, including criminalisation, mandatory waiting times and third party authorisation.

“The legal status of abortion does not affect the number of women and girls seeking one. Ending the criminalisation of abortion and removing other restrictive policy barriers to abortion care access is key to ensuring all women and girls can access abortion care without fear of prosecution or stigmatisation,” added Miss Ranee Thakar.

Through the new guidelines, the WHO formally endorses the use of telemedicine as a safe patient pathway to accessing care, where appropriate. This is a strong signal to countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, to shift towards more women friendly abortion delivery models.

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “The new WHO abortion guidelines are clear that the use of telemedicine is a safe and compassionate method through which to offer abortion care.

“We are disappointed by the UK Government’s recent decision to stop telemedicine for early medical abortions in England at the end of August and would urge them to take these recommendations on board and permanently implement the service.”

Dr Tracey Masters, spokesperson for the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:

 “Safe abortion care is an integral part of good sexual and reproductive healthcare. We believe women and girls have the right to access safe, legal and high-quality abortion care wherever they live worldwide.

“All women should be able to receive prompt access to abortion services, which should include good pregnancy decision-making support and access to post-abortion contraception by trained healthcare professionals if required.

 “We also envision a world where healthcare professionals can provide abortion care without fear of criminal sanctions, stigma and harassment.”

Abortion care is essential healthcare; it must be an integrated component of sexual and reproductive healthcare and be available as part of routine health services.


For media enquiries or to arrange an interview, please contact the RCOG press office: / +44 (0)7986 183167.

Notes to Editor

[1] Ganatra B, Gerdts C, Rossier C, Johnson Jr B R, Tuncalp Ö, Assifi A, Sedgh G, Singh S, Bankole A, Popinchalk A, Bearak J, Kang Z, Alkema L. Global, regional, and subregional classification of abortions by safety, 2010–14: estimates from a Bayesian hierarchical model. The Lancet. 2017

About the RCOG

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of 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.

About FSRH

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is the largest UK professional membership organisation working at the heart of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), supporting healthcare professionals to deliver high quality care. It works with its 15,000 members, to shape sexual reproductive health for all. It produces evidence-based clinical guidance, standards, training, qualifications and research into SRH. It also delivers conferences and publishes the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health in partnership with the BMJ.

  • Clinical and research
  • Abortion