Indonesian govt urged to make more progress on safe abortions

Fight for the rights: Indonesia Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI) executive director Chatarina Wahyurini says more progress is needed with regard to access to safe and legal abortions.

JAKARTA - Providing a conducive environment for the delivery of safe and legal abortions will prevent women from suffering complications from unsafe abortions, which are a major cause of maternal death in Indonesia, an activist has said.

Indonesia Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI) executive director Chatarina Wahyurini said unsafe abortions had continued to take place in areas across the country despite the issuance of Government Regulation (PP) No.61/2014 on reproductive health, which aimed to provide the people with greater access to reproductive care services, including safe abortions.

"With poor access to safe abortions, many women have continued to resort to unsafe procedures, which often lead to injury and death from pregnancy-related complications," Chatarina said. She was speaking during a recent journalist workshop on family planning and reproductive health held by the PKBI with support from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

Although PP 61 has improved women's reproductive health rights in Indonesia, there is still opposition to the regulation, which has been accused of having legalized abortion.

"People continue to deride PP 61, calling it 'PP abortion' although in fact, this PP regulates a broad range of reproductive health and rights issues, not merely safe abortions," Chatarina deplored.

Under PP 61, abortion is legal for women in specific circumstances, namely those who suffer from a life-threatening medical condition and for victims of rape. Still, pursuing a legal abortion involves tough procedures, including counseling.

Founded on Dec. 23, 1957, in response to Indonesia's maternal death rate, which was very high at that time, the PKBI has since developed as a NGO concerned with family planning and reproductive health issues. The PKBI now operates 36 clinics in 28 cities, providing sexual and reproductive health-care services.

The services available comprise reproductive health counseling and contraceptive care, HIV and other sexually transmitted disease prevention and control programs, pre- and postnatal treatment, obstetric services, sexual and other forms of gender-based violence control programs and safe abortions.

PKBI programme director Fahmi Arizal has said around 70 per cent of women who seek abortions do so due to unintended pregnancies. Hence, a key measure to avoid unsafe abortions was to provide greater access to sexual and reproductive health services to reduce unwanted pregnancies, he added.

In a rapidly changing society, Fahmi said, unwanted pregnancy cases among adolescents engaged in premarital and extramarital sexual activity had grown quickly. It would be better for sexually active young couples to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions by using contraception, he said.

"The problem is, the government is somewhat reluctant to give adolescents wider access to contraceptives and other reproductive health services as it is mandated by existing regulations that community health centres can provide those services only for productive-age married couples," said Fahmi.

"It's critical to give adolescents adequate access to reproductive care to protect them from unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions," he went on.