A Canadian aid worker tackles abortion in Canada

Topher Spence, CNN • Updated 23rd November 2019

Editor’s Note — Amber Sargent is the director of development and global accessibility manager at Direct Relief Canada . In this series, Amber will explore how to advance aid and development causes and share solutions for digital disability challenges.

Editor’s Note — Amber Sargent is the director of development and global accessibility manager at Direct Relief Canada . In this series, Amber will explore how to advance aid and development causes and share solutions for digital disability challenges.

(CNN) — News headlines across the US, UK and Canada are flocking to the story of the death of an American teen, whose final words to her partner during an abortion ceremony were “you can get an abortion there.”

The girl’s partner then shared her voicemail on social media. The details have since been analyzed and debated. Opponents say this example underscores the moral and social injustice of abortion, and that our society views women as responsible to protect their own bodies against the loss of their reproductive autonomy.

Opinions aside, Canada’s Direct Relief has long-established experience supporting the rights of mothers with disabilities to access safe and legal abortion.

According to a preliminary survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund , more than 2.5 million women worldwide have been helped by Direct Relief’s program since its creation in 2004. Over the past year, we’ve seen numerous media reports questioning the access to abortion there.

Questions do occasionally arise about the international financial and political support given to programs designed to improve the lives of women with disabilities. However, today at Direct Relief, what matters most is ensuring that women with disabilities have access to the same rights as women with no disabilities, to control their own reproductive health and reproductive rights.

Women with disabilities have to fight for their right to control their bodies and decide how to live their lives. The American teen’s abortion is an example of how vital it is to stand up for her right to choose, especially for people like her.

With laws and societal norms in every country determining the circumstances of when and when not to have a child, we have an obligation to ensure that abortions are accessed with dignity and respect, regardless of a woman’s disability.

Without access to safe and legal abortion, women with disabilities are vulnerable to injury, disabilities, death and abuse. They face problems such as shame and discrimination and lack access to information and health care.

This reality means that our work in Canada is essential. We recognize the support we provide women with disabilities as vitally important to realizing their basic human rights.

Our work on maternal and child health programs addresses aspects of global health on which women with disabilities are vulnerable to discrimination. As such, we provide broad access to mother and newborn health services, including family planning and abortion services.

Amber Sargent Direct Relief Canada

One in six women with disabilities around the world rely on our services. The women who use our programs are not just vulnerable to the risk of unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and sexual abuse; they are also most likely to die from complications following a caesarean section — a serious complication of pregnancy or childbirth for women with disabilities.

Research shows that women with disabilities have access to safe, legal abortions in high-income countries, and are consistently among the least affected by maternal deaths. However, in low- and middle-income countries, women with disabilities often lack the technical capacity to access safe abortions, and face a variety of barriers, including the stigma associated with abortion, expense, stigma or lack of information.

At Direct Relief, we have long understood that developing safe, legal abortion and improving maternal and child health can contribute to the overall development of communities and to a sustainable world. Ensuring that access to the full range of maternal and child health services — including safe, legal abortion — is as essential in countries that have invested in maternal and child health.

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