ICWRSA: A Potted History 2015-2023 + Annual Report for 2023


The International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion (ICWRSA) was launched in London on 28 May 2012 at a meeting of representatives of some 25 international and regional NGOs and networks supporting the right to safe abortion.

The interest in forming a campaigning network covering all aspects of safe abortion issues arose from discussions at several regional meetings following the closure of the International Consortium for Medical Abortion (ICMA), whose remit from 2002 when it was initiated, until it closed down, was to promote international knowledge of and access to medical abortion pills globally, the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, and to seek approval of the method from national drug regulatory agencies in a long list of countries, which slowly but surely was successful. Groups and individuals on the mailing list of ICMA were invited to become the first members of the Campaign.

Members’ countries by region

In June 2023, the membership of ICWRSA included some 1,600 international, regional, national and local women’s groups and non-governmental organisations, networks, agencies, coalitions and other groups, as well as individuals, living in 130 countries in all world regions. The individuals included policymakers, health and legal professionals, human rights advocates, researchers, journalists, students and academics. Campaign members were based in the following eight regions and a total of 136 countries:

Sub-Saharan Africa (36 countries)

Middle East & North Africa (11 countries)

Asia (20 countries)

Pacific (7 countries)

Western Europe (21 countries)

Eastern/Central Europe & Western Asia (17 countries)

Latin America & Caribbean (22 countries)

North America (2 countries)

Regional networks

The regional networks agreed to take responsibility for the Campaign’s strategic decisions and their implementation. There were as many as eight regional networks affiliated to the Campaign in different years who were represented on the brief Trustees Board or the permanent International Advisory Group:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Francophone West Africa

Middle East & North Africa



Eastern Europe


Latin America

Since the 1990s, many regional and international networks advocating for abortion rights, as well as sexual and/or reproductive health and rights more broadly, were formed. Not all of them were active throughout all the years the Campaign existed. Not all of them joined the Campaign. Some changed their affiliations as new networks were formed. Some came and went, whether due to lack of funding, changes in leadership, falls in participation, and/or due to political restrictions in the countries where they were based. Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic years made it impossible to meet in person, with obvious negative consequences. In the end, both our successes and failures were a collective responsibility.

Young Activist Network for Abortion Advocacy (YANAA)

YANAA was launched in 2019 following from a proposal by the youth workshop at the Campaign’s international forum in Lisbon in October 2018. After the forum, a Youth Steering Committee was formed who met in June 2019, developed a strategic plan and launched YANAA. Their first Twitter chat coincided with International Safe Abortion Day on 28 September 2019.

The current YANAA Steering Committee consists of young women from India, Sudan, Argentina, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.

Adolescents often suffer most from lack of access to safe abortion and the negative consequences of unsafe abortion. Age alone creates a barrier to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion, due to cultural and social expectations on girls and young women. As a result, neither accurate information nor youth-friendly services are available or accessible. And in spite of flowery verbiage lauding the importance of young women’s activism, young women’s networks have not had an easy time surviving either.

The requirement of parental consent for abortion has particularly damaging consequences, creating serious delays and restricting access. Girls and young women are often seen as incapable of making their own informed decisions, or as needing protection, which is translated into controls, largely driven by conservative cultural and religious values regarding sexual relations and limiting autonomy.



The following were agreed in 2012:


To bring together organisations and individuals who support and promote universal access to safe abortion as a women’s health and human rights issue − through knowledge creation and sharing, debate and dialogue, network and coalition building, sharing of skills and experience, and create a shared platform for advocacy.

Long-term goals

— Safe abortion as a universally accessible, publicly available and funded healthcare service.

— Full social and legal decriminalisation of abortion.


— To support women’s autonomy to make their own decisions whether and when to have children and have access to the means of acting on those decisions without risk to their health and lives.

— To campaign for a moratorium on prosecutions for abortion and the removal of abortion from the criminal law.

— To promote the legitimacy of the right to safe abortion in international, regional and national forums addressing women’s health and rights.

— To make the impact of unsafe and illegal abortion on women’s lives visible.

— To increase public awareness of women’s need for safe abortion, in order to increase public understanding and support.

— To promote young women’s leadership in the campaign at all levels.

— To build strategic partnerships with health professionals, policymakers, researchers, and UN and human rights defenders.

— To share evidence-based information, standards and guidelines to inform and improve policy, programmes and practice.

— To develop and disseminate key messages to counter the influence of the anti-abortion movement and claim the decision to have an abortion as a moral decision.

Intended outcomes

— Increased attention to and support for the right to safe abortion in key international, regional, and national decision-making spaces.

— Increased visibility and public awareness of the negative impact of unsafe abortion.

— Contribute to the reduction of stigma around obtaining an abortion and around the provision of safe abortion care.

— Greater understanding that the right to decide whether and when to have children is a critical aspect of gender equality, sexual and reproductive autonomy, and the right to life and health.

Guiding principles

— Increased attention to and support for the right to safe abortion in key international, regional, and national decision-making spaces.

— Increased visibility and public awareness of the negative impact of unsafe abortion.

— Contribute to the reduction of stigma around obtaining an abortion and around the provision of safe abortion care.

— Greater understanding that the right to decide whether and when to have children is a critical aspect of gender equality, sexual and reproductive autonomy, and the right to life and health….

— Abortion should not be restricted, prohibited or criminalised.

— No woman who has sought an abortion, and no health care provider who has provided a safe abortion at a woman’s request, and no abortion rights defender should be stigmatised, harassed, discriminated against, or prosecuted.

— Governments should take action to remove laws that restrict, prohibit or criminalise abortion and remove procedural barriers that restrict access to safe abortion services.



International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September

Many campaign members, especially those who are international NGOs, have always carried out their own international abortion rights advocacy activities and participated in international conferences and meetings. Although the Campaign Advisory Group hoped to support international advocacy for safe abortion in an ongoing way, we never had the funds nor the person-power to do this. What we did succeed in doing was to promote the one day a year that has been dedicated to safe abortion – 28 September.

Working alongside our members and many other abortion rights groups, the Campaign has made 28 September well known worldwide as the annual day of action in support of the right to safe abortion – celebrated since 1990 in Latin America and since 2011 internationally. Recent years have seen activities in dozens of countries across all global regions. National and world leaders have begun to make statements in support of the day, and a growing number of media outlets report national and international events and publish articles on local and national activities and on the themes. Each year the Campaign has published up to six newsletters, including those statement, summaries of those activities and the media’s news reports.

The slogan “Abortion is healthcare” was one of the main themes for 28 September in 2020 and since then has become near universal, repeated all around the world.

In 2022 and 2023, YANAA introduced a youth-related sub-theme for 28 September, along with the main theme in the call to action. In 2022, it was #Unstoppablemovement. In 2023, it was #YouthLeadership.

The Call to Action for 2023 also called for support for solidarity actions when they were requested, demand the right to bodily autonomy against oppressive and unresponsive policies, call for universal access to safe abortion and justice for all those who are faced with an unwanted pregnancy and need an abortion.

The full text of the 28 September 2023 Call to Action by the Planning Group can be found here: https://www.safeabortionwomensright.org/news/call-to-action-ii-international-safe-abortion-day-28-september-2023-were-an-unstoppable-movement/

As an example of a regional statement, here is the full text of the statement of the European Safe Abortion Networking Group for 28 September 2023:

Ensuring Access to Safe Abortion across Europe

Statement and Call for Action by the European Safe Abortion Networking Group for International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September 2023

The European Safe Abortion Networking Group is a group of national, regional and international SRHR organisations based in Europe, working for universal access to safe, legal abortion. The group was formed in 2019 and has been meeting online bi-monthly since the Covid pandemic began.

Many people assume everything is OK with abortion in Europe. And it’s true that most of the countries in the region have very good laws and services compared to the rest of the world and that much has improved over the last years with strong national advocacy campaigns, feminist-run clinics, and active support from a long list of political parties, human rights bodies and the World Health Organization.


Denmark is celebrating 50 years of legal abortion this year, and they are not the first.

But we still have a long way to go to makes abortions universally accessible to everyone who seeks them. In many of our countries, even those with good laws on paper, making change happen is a slow process, especially if the heads of government and senior clinicians are ambivalent. We are going through a period in which right-wing parties and parliamentarians who are openly opposed to abortion are making their presence felt, e.g. in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and above all in Central and Eastern European countries, especially in Poland, Hungary, and Romania.

Most laws in Europe may be very liberal in allowing abortion on request in the first 12-14 weeks of pregnancy, but access to second and especially third trimester abortions remains very limited and hemmed in with conditions and restrictions and requiring third party approval (doctors, parents), even though later abortions are so few and are needed only in the most desperate of situations and quickly.

Moreover, there are still countries where most or all abortions are illegal, including Malta, Andorra and Poland, and where women still seek abortions outside the law – especially the growing numbers using pills but not under a clinician’s control, which grew during and as an outcome of the pandemic. Moreover, advocates for abortion rights are being prosecuted too, most egregiously in Poland, but also in Andorra, Malta and England.

Almost invisibly, across the whole panorama of legal and clinical restrictions, thousands of women are still having to travel within and between countries to get abortions, or to seek help from Abortion Without Borders (a network of abortion clinics in six countries and a new abortion fund) to have later abortions and to obtain abortion pills.

The pandemic years made many things more difficult. Medical abortion pills were scarce in some countries and still are. Travel across borders for abortions, especially later abortions, obviously became more difficult. On the other hand, telemedicine and self-managed abortion with pills up to 12 weeks became possible in at least half a dozen countries and has now become a permanent fixture in those countries.

Call for Action

Here are some of the most important legal and service-related changes and improvements we are calling for and will campaign for in our countries and across the region going forward:

  • Complete decriminalisation of abortion in all countries, both as a harm reduction strategy to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity but also to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights, bodily autonomy and voluntary motherhood.
  • Universal access to safe, legal abortions, as early as possible and for as long as needed, with choice of method whenever possible.
  • Acknowledgement that medical abortion pills mifepristone + misoprostol are a very safe abortion method for use not only in the first trimester but also for later abortions, with appropriate regimens.
  • Self-managed abortion with pills up to 12 weeks should be allowed in all countries.
  • All countries should implement the 2022 World Health Organization guidelines, including training for the range of health care providers who can provide services.
  • Training for pharmacists to provide medical abortion pills over the counter, shown to be safe in both Canada and Nepal.
  • Campaigns to encourage more services and providers to manage 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions, especially trained nurses and midwives.
  • Approval of combined medical abortion pills (mifepristone + misoprostol) in all countries, and approval of misoprostol as an abortifacient. They are approved as an essential medicine by WHO and should be approved as an essential medicine across Europe.
  • Policies should be gender inclusive, that is, applying to women, girls and others who can become pregnant and who seek an abortion.



The Campaign website has been completely reorganised several times since 2012, using new and greatly improved technology and thanks to several highly skilled techies as well. The most recent revamp is only a year old and will soon be completed. The dropdown links to each of the main sections (in the blue band above) are at the top of the home page.

The News section is an archive of every report published in the Campaign newsletter between 2016 and the end of 2023. There are currently 345 web pages carrying more than 2,000 news reports going back to 2014, searchable by country. News from almost all countries has been included

The Blog section contains items written by Campaign members between 2017 and 2023, almost all of them up to and during 2017 through 2020. There were several press releases each year, focusing on solidarity requests and major events, but there was a journalists’ list who were also receiving the newsletter and were picking up the news that way.

One of the most important website sections to be revamped in 2023 was the section called “I need an abortion”, with the aim of giving more attention to this source of information. It covers not only the main international, internet-based sources of help of those who provide information, support and in two cases also direct access to medical abortion pills via the internet. There is also a revised section on Abortion Funds, and a long list of national sources of abortion help and information in some 40 countries in all global regions. That list is three years old at this writing, however, and will be the first section of the website to be updated in early 2024.

Reports of all the solidarity requests we shared (there were between three and seven per year), were always featured in the Campaign newsletter and social media, and posted online. They can be found here on the website.

The website archive Resources has publications written by Campaign staff and/or members, i.e.:

– 14 news articles written by Campaign staff and members, most recently a three-part special news report from Japan in 2023;

– an outline of the WHO 2022 Abortion Guideline;

– five how-to reports addressed to journalists covering different aspects of reporting in the media about abortion – written in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – including a media guideline based on a seminar in South Africa with input from a dozen South African journalists, one with information on how to write about abortion pills, and another on publishing personal abortion stories;

– five reports on trials and imprisonment for abortion in Malaysia, Senegal, Kenya, Mexico and Argentina, written in 2016, 2017 and 2018 by Campaign staff and members from those countries; and

– tables of contents of two special journal issues, with links to the peer-reviewed articles themselves, one in the journal Contraception on “Medical Abortion” in 2018, and the other in the journal Health and Human Rights in 2017 on “Abortion and Human Rights”.



Annual Reports summarising the activities of the Campaign have been published in the newsletter and on the website, starting with 2014, and can be found on the Campaign website at: https://www.safeabortionwomensright.org/annual-reports/.

Advocacy for the right to safe abortion as well as information creation and sharing have been the two most important activities of the Campaign and its members. The two-year report for January 2020 to December 2021 best describes the amount of advocacy work members were involved in. Unfortunately, the pandemic put paid to that continuing, except online. Webinars, social media postings and web-based meetings took over. None was a real substitute.

In starting to prepare this report, I discovered that no annual report for 2022 had been published as I was unwell with Covid and its aftermath during most of the second half of 2022. Moreover, only 26 newsletters were published in 2022.

Work that was accomplished in 2022 has been included in many parts of the Campaign website, however, including the news in the 26 newsletters that were published.




In November-December 2022, I felt obliged to come back to work and do my best to save the Campaign and asked advisory group members for their help in doing so. Shruti Arora has continued to carry her part of the work as YANAA Coordinator and taken over the Campaign’s social media. And a new website manager magically appeared as well. Hence, what we have continued throughout 2023 are the information-sharing activities – weekly newsletters, solidarity requests, social media posts, website, YANAA, and joint involvement with other NGOs in planning activities, encouraging media reports and publishing reports of activities for International Safe Abortion Day 2023.

Donor funding in 2022-23

The Global Fund for Women provided us with three grants during these last two years that have allowed YANAA to continue fully functioning and organising webinars, attending conferences, doing social media and other activities, and also supported the continued publication of the weekly Campaign newsletters, as well as maintaining, expanding and improving the Campaign website. A small donation from DKT International also helped. We are very grateful to them both.

The small amount of remaining money as of the end of December 2023 will help YANAA to carry on, at least for the first part of 2024. Whether they carry on for the longer term, either independently or linked to another NGO, are issues they are currently exploring at this writing.

What about 2024?

This is my last newsletter. We have paid to keep the website online in 2024 and will update it in January 2024, most importantly the section on where to find a safe abortion but also as a history of abortion internationally and as a source of information about the Campaign. The e-mail address info@safeabortionwomensright.org will also be kept active until correspondence fades away. Condolences are not required, however.



The Campaign as an active network of international, regional and national networks, coalitions and groups – strategising and advocating together for the right to safe abortion – ended in 2022. In my opinion, we never recovered from the disagreement in 2021 between the trustees and the international advisory group over who had the right to appoint someone to replace me as the international coordinator, even though both groups separately chose the same person from among the 40 or so applications received (though with an inexcusable two-month delay by the trustees who said they didn’t have time in between). Still, the person whom everyone had chosen was offered the job even after the two-month delay, and she accepted.

Before she was able to start, however, came an unexpected and unearned blow. That was the loss of a large grant from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which we were asked to return via the NGO that was acting as our grant recipient. That pretty much emptied our bank account. The request to return the money turned out to have been a mistake on the Ministry’s part, yet it was never acknowledged as such by them, nor was any of the money sent back to us. Our new coordinator-in-waiting resigned in response, and who could blame her. We were completely dependent on that grant for her salary, as well as to fund the staff and our second international forum when the pandemic ended. We all knew it would be impossible to have/do either, given the international funding scene.

A further consequence was that having spent months completing an application for and obtaining charity status in England several years ago, we were forced to give it up because of the loss of funds. Even so, thanks to the Global Fund for Women and encouragement from members to at least carry on doing the newsletter and other information sharing, we think we have earned our keep this year.

The final blow came from Promsex, who had been the Campaign’s fiscal agent from the time we got our first funding in 2015 or 2016. Several months before the end of 2023, we were informed that they would not continue in this role after the end of 2023.



When the US Supreme Court killed Roe v. Wade, they set off an endless series of both successful and unsuccessful attempts at US state level – to protect abortion rights from one side and restrict abortion rights from the other. A veritable 21st century civil war, which mirrors the deeper and ongoing civil war in the US between the two main political parties at all levels of governance.

In the rest of the world, some Campaign members think the news has been more good than bad; others think the opposite. Perhaps it depends which country and region you are living in. In our first newsletter for 2023, a member wrote that we should give thanks that the anti-abortion movement internationally was weak, in spite of events in the USA, and reminded everyone of the positive law reforms that had taken place in recent years, with a list that included mostly western European countries plus New Zealand, Australia, Colombia and Mexico. Indeed a number of other countries, as 2023 comes to a close, are also considering positive law reforms (e.g. several in Scandanavia).

Elsewhere, however, the picture is different. In Brazil, the Supreme Court seemed to be on its way to adding one new legal ground to their law but the retirement of the chief justice put at least a temporary brake on that. France also seemed to be on their way to making abortion a constitutional right but their Senate put at least a temporary stop to that by trying to change the wording from what the other house had passed. Still, activists in both countries are far from giving up.

However, a similar number of countries with right-wing/conservative governments (e.g. Hungary, Romania, Italy, Argentina, Andorra, Russia and China) are attempting to or have succeeded in restricting their abortion laws and/or closing down at least some abortion services, whether in the name of religion or because they think their birth rate is too low or they need more soldiers. China’s first-ever abortion law this year was a major restriction, allowing medical reasons for abortion only, in the hope that more children will be born as an ageing population is a consequence of their oo=ne-child policy of so many decades. Russia also looked set to limit access to abortion services a month ago, a regular bad habit since 1920, but their legislature has surprisingly just said no to that. More pessimistically, however, it seems the anti-abortion movements in many places in the world have begun to be more active again, and to have received a lot of funding to do so.

Globally speaking, there seems to be little or no increased understanding, in spite of the history of the advantages of safe and legal abortion in the past 50 years and more, and in spite of all the well-funded pro-family planning messaging and contraceptive services. Unprotected sex unfortunately continues apace even when pregnancy is not sought, inevitably leading to unintended and unwanted pregnancies. Men’s lack of responsibility for having only wanted children has barely altered, and rape and sexual abuse also remain rife. Young women continue to be the most affected. Access to safe abortion therefore remains as necessary as it has always been. But abortion is at least more in the open now, with far fewer deaths and morbidity. It has also become a truism that abortions will continue to be obtained, safely or unsafely, legally or illegally, no matter what obstacles are placed in the paths of those who seek them. The misogyny and punitive treatment which occur as a result, and which ought to be recognised and punished for what they are – are rarely punished, however.

One major difference from decades ago has been the development of abortion pills (mifepristone and misoprostol) and of manual vacuum aspiration as an alternative to the pills and also as an emergency method that takes only minutes after an unsafe abortion. However, efforts by governments and senior doctors in many countries to maintain their own tight control over access to these methods and to maintain restrictive laws and practice in order to do so, remain a serious drag on progress.

The existence of a growing movement by some abortion rights advocates to support self-managed abortion with pills, and by others to train and empower midwives, nurses and other mid-level providers – to provide abortion care at primary and community level – are therefore crucial, and in my opinion, represent the future we should aim for. At the same time, the threat of criminalisation of self-managed abortion with pills is a serious and present danger, providing a new excuse for the age-old practice of patriarchal societal and religious control over women’s health and lives as a form of ongoing misogyny and violence against women.

In sum, there is a lot of work left to do before the right to safe abortion is universal. I wish all of you the best in your continuing involvement in achieving this goal and encourage you to do so, above all, at country level, where change must happen first and foremost, and must be assiduously protected.

Marge Berer

ICWRSA Coordinator/Newsletter Editor, June 2015-December 2023