man in deep thoughts with his index finger on his lower lip

Safe vs. unsafe abortion: what’s the difference?

Beth Karuana
The alarming rise in the number of unsafe abortions is a pressing public health issue in Kenya that demands our immediate attention. It’s a crisis that we can, and must prevent. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly half of all abortions are unsafe, with a staggering 97-percent of these occurring in developing countries. In Kenya, for instance, the number of induced abortions rose from 300,000 in 2004 to 464,490 in 2012, most of which were deemed unsafe. 

So, what distinguishes a safe abortion from an unsafe one?

The WHO defines a safe abortion as one performed using a WHO-recommended method, in an environment that meets minimum medical standards, and by a skilled professional. The method used should be appropriate for the stage of pregnancy. 

Some of the common safe abortion methods include medication abortion (which involves taking pills to terminate a pregnancy); having a vacuum aspiration, which is a surgery that removes the tissue with suction; and having a dilation and evacuation, which is another surgery that involves widening the cervix and taking out the tissue from the uterus. 

An unsafe abortion, on the other hand, fails to meet these criteria. For instance, an abortion might be performed using a WHO-recommended method but without not by a trained medical professional. Or, a skilled professional might use an outdated method. Even if a trained professional uses a WHO-recommended method, the abortion could still be unsafe if the method isn’t suitable for the stage of pregnancy. 

To illustrate further, consider the scenario of abortions conducted at home using ineffective and hazardous methods. These instances fail to meet the necessary skill level and the minimum medical standards, rendering them unsafe. 

For example, some individuals resort to perilous home remedies for abortion, such as ingesting detergents, herbs, and teas like pennyroyal, mugwort, strong tea, and parsley. Others might resort to physical exercises, self-inflicted injuries using sharp objects, or misuse of over-the-counter medications like ulcer medicine, caffeine pills, and birth control pills. These methods are not only ineffective but can also result in severe health complications.

It’s important to note that the terms ‘legal abortion’ and ‘safe abortion’ are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Legal abortion refers to the status of abortion laws in a given country or region, while safe abortion refers to the quality and accessibility of abortion services. 

Unsafe abortion can have serious consequences for pregnant women. In Kenya, it’s one of the main causes of maternal death, killing seven women every day. Unsafe abortion can also cause heavy bleeding, infection, damage to internal organs, and uterine proliferation, among others. Furthermore, unsafe abortion methods may not even end the pregnancy. 

Every preventable death is a loss to our community. Join us to promote safe abortion in Kenya and safeguard the well-being of our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. 

did you find this useful?

Tell us what you think

LoveMatters Africa

Blush-free facts and stories about love, sex, and relationships