Why we no longer ask grantee partners to ‘count’ abortions

We are the world’s only global fund dedicated to safe abortion. Of course, the work of our diverse grantee partners also crosses over into other areas of human rights, healthcare and social justice. But to be eligible for SAAF funding, this work must in some way contribute to our overall vision of a world where rights to “abortion and bodily autonomy are respected, protected and fulfilled”. For many organisations, but not all, this includes the provision or facilitation of safe, high-quality abortion care services.

What ‘abortion care’ looks like can depend on the organisation, their context, and the need they are meeting. It might be providing abortions and/or post-abortion services in their own clinics, but also running hotlines which support people with information on how to take abortion medication. Perhaps they are a trusted source of referrals to abortion providers in the area or provide one to one counselling for people with unplanned pregnancies.

Why do we collect data on abortion?

Without accurate data, we lose the opportunity to be accountable and identify areas for improvement.

As a funder which aims to be transparent and accountable, we want to be able to share accurate information about the work of the organisations we support. We also want to show the amazing things that can be achieved by funding abortion-focused initiatives. The lives saved and changed by access to safe abortion. We want to remind our own donors, and others in the sector of the importance of this work, which is so often sidelined and stigmatised.

Supporting grantee partners to better collect and analyse data on their own abortion work has also proven to be valuable. By tracking trends and having effective processes for ongoing monitoring of their impact, grantee partners are better able to meet the needs of the communities they work with.

For example, through data analysis we have helped organisations identify where they were not reaching certain groups (like adolescents) as intended, so that they could adapt their strategies. In one instance, the data helped one organisation to track the use of the outdated ‘dilation and curettage’ method until they managed to phase it out entirely.  

The power of abortion data

The organisations we provide funding to use abortion-related data in a number of ways. Some find it to be a vital advocacy tool for changing legislation on abortion, or lobbying for better implementation. Some use it to help change hearts and minds. It can be an essential tool in the destigmatisation of abortion – after all, if we know that 30% of all pregnancies end in abortion, we know we are certainly not alone in that experience.

Data is powerful. It can show the huge unmet need for safe abortion around the world. When we see a high number of hospitalisations caused by unsafe abortion, it’s clear something needs to be done. When SAAF grantee partner Las Libres (based in Mexico) goes public about having supported over 20,000 people in the US to access safe abortions, it’s clear that restricting clinical access to abortion doesn’t actually make it go away.

As a donor how do we measure “success” when it comes to providing access to abortion options?

Across the world, there is a huge unmet need for abortion care, and contraception.

Despite what the anti-abortion movement may claim about reproductive health programmes, the aim is not to ensure that all pregnancies end in abortion! Our aim as a fund is to increase the number of people who have the option to choose safe, dignified abortion care if and when they need it.

Of course, meeting unmet need and bridging the gap between people who need abortions, and the information and support they require would likely mean an increase in recorded, safe abortions. This is a positive sign that people are accessing the healthcare they need. But simply asking grantee partners about the “number of abortions provided” doesn’t really give us the whole story.

It’s about increasing the options that people have.

We don’t set any targets for the organisations we provide funding to. They set their own intended results and signs of progress according to what they know about their local context and need. So, there is no expectation for those providing abortion services to hit a certain “target”. Indeed, this comes with ethical considerations. Our grantee partners don’t want to ‘push’ abortion, but rather make sure it is available and acceptable to those who need it. To provide safe alternatives to unsafe methods and self-harm. To ensure women aren’t forced to give birth and parent when they are not ready.

SAAF now asks grantee partners to report on “access to abortion options”.

This is a broad category which captures the complexity of the work of the global organisations we fund. What we are interested in is how many people were supported to be given this option they otherwise would not have had access to.

Only asking about ‘abortions provided’ would mean we miss some of the reality of the work.

For example, Balance has been doing amazing work providing transport, accommodation, and financial support to help people access abortion care in parts of Mexico where it is legally available. This was the instance which sparked our move to the new, broader definition of enabling ‘abortion options’.

Similarly, without broadening our understanding of what abortion support looks like, we would not be capturing the high impact of organisations like Socorristas En Red. They do facilitate abortions in clinics, but since July 2022 have also supported 16,529 self-managed abortions and individual counselling sessions. That’s an enormous effort and impact which would not be captured under a more straight-forward definition of ‘abortions provided’.

By Laura Hurley, SAAF Programme Adviser and Communications Lead

Leave a Reply