World Health Organization calls for full decriminalization of abortion

The World Heath Organization (WHO) has updated its abortion guidelines to call for full decriminalization globally. 

The 200-page "Abortion care guideline" was published on Wednesday and replaces previous guidance in existence since 2012.

The new document describes abortion as "lifesaving care" and says that women and girls should not be imprisoned for terminating their pregnancy. Nor should abortion providers be imprisoned, the guidance states. 

"Being able to obtain safe abortion is a crucial part of health care," said Craig Lissner, acting Director for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO.

"Nearly every death and injury that results from unsafe abortion is entirely preventable. That's why we recommend women and girls can access abortion and family planning services when they need them."

The guidance says that governments should remove "barriers" to the "timely provision of quality abortion care", such as "gestational age limits, mandatory waiting periods, third-party authorization requirements and provider restrictions". 

"Abortion should be fully decriminalized," the guidance reads. 

The document also says that governments should ensure access to medical abortion pills, and for the first time includes recommendations for use "where appropriate" of telemedicine.

After the outbreak of Covid-19, the UK was among the countries that allowed women to have abortion pills sent to their homes by post following a phone or e-consultation with an abortion provider.

WHO claimed that telemedicine had "helped support access to abortion and family planning services during the Covid-19 pandemic".

Critics have strongly condemned telemedicine - also known as DIY home abortions - as unsafe because it exposes women and girls to greater risk of a medical emergency or being forced to abort their child by an abusive partner.