ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

The Women’s Resource Center carried out research in September and October to examine whether women in rural communities can access their right to legal and safe abortions and whether they face any obstacles in reaching those services. Representatives of the organisation visited five rural communities and interviewed 50 rural women using focus groups and carried out 5 in-depth interviews.

Though Armenian legislation gives women the right to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, many women in Armenia, especially those already marginalized, face obstacles to accessing safe abortion facilities. The amendment to the Law on Human Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights introduced in August 2016, prohibits sex-selective abortions, introduces counselling, as well as a three day period of reflection before the final decision is made on the request for a termination, and defines procedures for medical staff acting against this legislation. Under the guise of ‘’protection of girls from sex selective abortion’’, state policy is in reality trying to address the increase in overall number of abortions in Armenia. This pro-natality policy is also reflected in the State strategy on reproductive health, which highlights the danger of abortion to demographic growth. The issue of sex-selective abortion is used as an excuse for more general restrictions on abortion.

Women in rural areas cannot exercise their legal rights in the area of reproductive health. These women have to travel a long distance to be able to access facilities where they can obtain a termination of their pregnancy. The biggest challenge is money: many women’s monthly salary (appr. $100) does not allow them to afford abortion in the hospitals, leading them to  attempt it in the home, using pills as a method and without proper consultation with a specialist. There have been cases when women had health issues as a result of using those pills without correct medical advice. In some villages there is a grandmother figure, a former nurse, who carries out abortions. The Ministry of Health prohibited the sale of the required medicine without prescription, however many rural pharmacies still sell it for a price which is smaller than $1. Financially, it is easier for many rural women to access unregulated and potentially unsafe abortions in their home village, instead of travelling to clinics with trained medical staff.

Women visiting the doctor requesting an abortion sometimes experience doctors who try to convince women not to go through with the procedure. In medical institutions, there are many posters dedicated to sex-selective abortion which influence  women who are seeking an abortion but not because of the sex of the child. Again we are seeing the issue of sex-selective abortion being used to dissuade women from abortion for any reason.

In addition to the above obstacles to access to safe abortion, we were told of other factors which impact on whether a woman has an abortion. In many cases, women told us that the final decision on whether they have an abortion is not made by a women themselves, but usually by their spouse and mother-in-law. There is also a lack of awareness about contraceptive methods, which leads many women to use abortion as a way to deal with unwanted pregnancies following not using contraception earlier.

Source: Women's Resource Center