GHLS Blog Series: Partners for Reproductive Justice (Ipas)

November 22, 2022

The Global Health Landscape Symposium is just a few weeks away! This year’s convening will focus on generating progress and seizing on the potential of global health that has been so clearly illustrated throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We wanted to get a jump start on the conversation by talking to the organizations that will be joining us on December 7 and 8. Here, we are speaking with Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, Senior Legal and Policy Advisor at Partners for Reproductive Justice (Ipas).

The last in-person Global Landscape Symposium took place in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the biggest challenges you and your organization have encountered in the three years since then?

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the gender, racial, and economic inequities in healthcare systems around the world that make it difficult for women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups to get the essential care they need. These same structural inequities long blocked access to safe abortion care. 

One problem that became evident during the pandemic, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, is that women and reproductive rights were left at the bottom of the government priorities, policies and plans. There was no attention to the provision of services, or to ensure that women could keep accessing information, among other things. We also saw disrupted supply chains which reduced access to contraceptives and abortion supplies. Ipas and WEC worked diligently to mitigate this harm over the past three years. We worked to expand women’s ability to access abortion without having to visit a health center, by building telehealth solutions and supporting women to self-manage abortion with pills, by ensuring governments identified abortion as an essential health service, and by giving abortion providers the information, training, and supplies they need to safely offer abortion and contraceptive care. 

What are the most positive, encouraging developments that have emerged from this time period?

Despite the pandemic, the Latin American feminist movement worked tirelessly for access to safe and legal abortion and made great strides in the region. Feminist activists have always built support networks to help their communities access safe abortion. They have found creative ways to move the service to households in need during the pandemic and address the difficulty it created in accessing health services and clinics. 

For example, several Latin American countries expanded the use of telemedicine to provide legal medical abortion services and medical care. This allowed several countries to expand access to this legal service to more rural areas and to places where health centers could not provide services due to overcrowding with COVID cases.

In addition, in the last three years, there have been wonderful wins on reproductive rights, specifically on abortion, in Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia. This highlights the importance of the local movement and the impact of the expansion of the “green wave” (a collective of feminists based in Mexico).

The title of this year’s Symposium is “Meeting the Moment.” How do you think the global health community can best meet this unique moment in time?

The global health community can meet the moment by doubling down on its support of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The feminist movement has seen tremendous progress in recent years, with the historic decriminalization of abortion in Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia, thanks to the tireless work and persistence of feminist movements in those countries. While we celebrate these legal advances, the next challenge is implementing these new laws, de-stigmatizing the right to abortion, and guaranteeing access to all people, including those who have historically been marginalized and struggled to access care. It is not enough to decriminalize, we must work with doctors, health systems, civil society, and even educational systems to guarantee access to reproductive health for everyone who needs it. 

Also, it is very important to exchange ideas and lessons learned from other movements that have been fighting for years and have been successful – like the Latin American green wave.

This year is Global Health Council’s 50th anniversary. In your view, what has been the organization’s impact over the years? What would you like to see it do/achieve in the coming years?

For 50 years, the Global Health Council has been striving to create a world where health and well-being for all are ensured through equitable, inclusive, and sustainable investments, policies, and services. GHC is the collective voice for the global healthcare community and wields power and influence over global health policy. 

We need GHC at the table with the global reproductive health, rights, and justice movements as we fight for reproductive freedom. Abortion is health care, and access to health care is a human right. We need GHC and others to not only recognize abortion in this way but to be clear that, when we speak about sexual and reproductive health and rights, this includes abortion.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Abortion is a matter of public health; it is basic health care that should always be available to those that need it. As we continue fighting for our most basic freedoms, the message we want to convey is that we will win if we stand together. 

History tells us abortion has always existed worldwide and it always will. Communities will find ways to take care of themselves and each other, even when laws won’t protect us. There are simply too many of us who believe in the right to abortion and reproductive autonomy.

Be sure to check out Ipas’ panel, “Abortion for All: A Continental Discussion,” on Thursday, December 8 at 1:45 PM.