WHO Prescribes Unsafe Abortion for Poor Women


A new manual by the World Health Organization (WHO) on how to do abortions is facing criticism for advocating substandard medical care and a ban on all limits to abortion. Aimed particularly at poor women in developing countries, the manual downplays medical oversight and recommends disposing of the “waste,” including babies’ remains, in sewers or latrines.

A review of the WHO’s “Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems” just published by C-FAM (publisher of the Friday Fax) has found the agency “recommending abortion practices for women in poor countries that have been rejected by medical experts in the developed world.”

The review, which was peer reviewed by experts in medicine and international law, concludes the WHO’s guidance is designed to make abortion more widespread. The WHO discourages customary practices such as exams to detect ectopic pregnancies or complications.

The WHO’s report pays a lot of attention on the drug misoprostol, the anti-ulcer medication has become the primary method of choice for aggressive abortion advocates. Its legitimate uses, such as treating post-partum hemorrhage, makes the drug more readily acceptable and more easily available. The WHO acknowledges that its guidance on using misoprostol for pregnancies beyond 24 weeks lacks clinical studies to back up its recommendation.

C-FAM’s Director of Research Dr. Susan Yoshihara is the primary author of the review titled “Eleven Problems with the 2012 WHO Technical Guidance on Abortion.” The WHO reasoning for recommending substandard care is because such inferior care is already being practiced. The WHO does not advise the higher standard of care that is common-place in many regions of the world.

Yoshihara was surprised to see the WHO reject such common medical practices as follow-up medical exams after an abortion. The WHO’s guidance puts the responsibility for detecting complications like infections and hemorrhaging upon the woman.

The WHO also recommends conducting abortions on women before doing an ultrasound to determine if a pregnancy is ectopic. Neither medical or surgical abortions can remove an ectopic pregnancy. It advises the person conducting the abortion (who may not be medically trained) to “visually identify the products of conception” to detect specific parts of the pre-born baby and the umbilical cord.

What’s more, in the WHO guidance “fetal survival” of an abortion is considered a failure.

In addition to lax medical standards, the WHO also urges worldwide liberalization of abortion laws, claiming it is part of a “human rights approach” despite international agreements and national laws that limit abortion and recognize the right to life.

“The contents of this purportedly authoritative guidance was so bad I had to put it down several times,” stated Dr. Yoshihara, who is also Director of C-FAM’s International Organizations Research Group. “It recommends techniques for use in the developing world that would not be tolerated in the developed world, thus reinforcing instead of remedying the existing disparities in maternal mortality rates. We should expect much higher medical standards from WHO.”

Wendy Wright is the Interim Executive Director at C-FAM.