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Access denied: Understanding the experiences of Burmese women who are unable to obtain a legal abortion in Thailand

Angel Foster, DPhil, MD, AM, Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants, 2015

Project abstract

The decades-long conflict, human rights violations, and lack of development in Eastern Burma have led to mass displacement of women from Burma into Thailand. These women face significant challenges accessing comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion care.

In 2012, a multi-national team developed, implemented, and evaluated a pilot project to refer eligible women from Burma to a Thai provider for a safe and legal abortion. Scale-up and expansion of the project throughout northern Thailand began in 2014. In 2015-2016 we anticipate that 100 women will successfully receive abortions as a result of the referral system. However, given the varied interpretations of abortion law in Thailand, we also expect that more than 300 women with unwanted pregnancies will be denied a referral over this same period.

Our project centers on these women. Through in-depth interviews with approximately 100 women on the Thailand-Burma border, our two-year project aims to: 1) Document the experiences of Burmese women who are unable to obtain a safe and legal abortion through an existing referral system; 2) Evaluate the pregnancy outcomes of women who are denied an abortion three months and nine months after the denial; and 3) Assess the impact of misoprostol-related harm reduction materials distributed to a subset of women at the time of the denial. We believe that our results will not only improve the referral system in this protracted conflict and refugee setting but will help inform efforts in other humanitarian contexts to expand access to safe abortion care.

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