The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) was established by a group of five like-minded bilateral donors in 2006 as a multi-donor funding mechanism to support in-country initiatives for increasing access to safe abortion services. It currently provides small flexible grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for policy, advocacy, innovations in service delivery and research. The initial round of funding supported 50 projects worldwide. With renewed commitment from initial and new donors, SAAF organized a second round of funding in early 2011 and 35 projects are currently being supported.
SAAF is administered by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and is overseen and governed by an independent multi-agency Board which consists of a total of 10 representatives from larger NGOs working in the field of abortion, donor governments and individuals with relevant experience and technical expertise. The Board provides strategic direction and oversight of the fund, sets policy and guidelines, considers, discusses and approves applications for funding and mobilizes resources.
SAAF operates on an open and competitive basis. Whilst in many ways a modest funding instrument, external evaluations suggested that SAAF has made a significant contribution to promoting action on abortion that is more than symbolic. As a funding instrument specifically for abortion, in partnership with others, it has served to help legitimize as well as practically support work on abortion among a growing number of groups in various countries.
SAAF focuses on the needs of the marginalized and most vulnerable women and girls, funding projects which provide abortion services within a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, including post-abortion contraception.
SAAF encourages abortion services to be provided to the fullest extent of any national law and at the highest possible standards of care, and for legal and policy reforms to be implemented in countries where abortion is restricted.
By visibly funding projects using an international funding mechanism, SAAF works to de-stigmatize abortion and to legitimize the abortion debate – creating and supporting a ‘network of champions’ who are more empowered to work at local and national levels.
Unsafe abortion: the facts
Abortion remains one of the most sensitive and unspoken maternal health issues worldwide, accounting for 13 per cent of all maternal deaths. In many countries, the combination of poor access to modern methods of contraception, restrictive abortion laws, stigma associated with abortion and poor access to sexual and reproductive health in general force each year 21.6 million women and girls to seek an unsafe abortion. The consequences can be dramatic, and an estimated eight million women each year experience complications from unsafe abortion, leading to 47,000 maternal deaths. Behind these figures are women who live almost exclusively in developing countries and are too poor to seek services from a qualified provider.
Reducing unsafe abortion-related complications is one of the most important ways to lower overall maternal morbidity and mortality, since nearly all deaths from unsafe abortion are preventable. It is therefore an important step towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5), to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.
Abortion as an issue encompasses several interrelated spheres which are medical, legal and socio-cultural. In many countries the restrictive laws that prevent women from accessing legal and safe abortions are compounded by ignorance, misinformation and misunderstanding about the legality of abortion, which in practice further restricts the use of services women are entitled to receive by law. Women are not aware of their rights; providers may not be aware of the law and/or are not skilled. This lack of information, together with a lack of public discussion, leads to tragic consequences for women. Moreover, in certain countries, the right to a safe abortion embedded in a liberal constitution, law or policy is not always translated into safe, accessible and affordable services. Women are therefore deprived of their right to health, and the right to control their own fertility and make choices about their own body, which leads them to seek illegal and unsafe abortions.