Unsafe abortions still killing women
Dr Suzanne Belton's (pictured) study
suggests ways that East Timor could
improve the safety of abortions.

Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of death for pregnant women globally, according to a prominent Charles Darwin University researcher.

Research Associate with CDU’s Graduate School for Health Practice, Dr Suzanne Belton has finished the first study ever on unwanted pregnancy in East Timor.

The study entitled, Maternal Mortality, Unplanned Pregnancy and Unsafe Abortion in Timor-Leste: A Situational Analysis, was presented as a part of East Timor’s Institute of Health Sciences’ first Congress on Health Sciences in early December 2008 in Dili.

Co-authored by Dr Belton, Andrea Whittaker and Dr Lesley Barclay, the study investigates and recommends strategies to assist the reduction of morbidity and mortality associated with unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

The maternal death and fertility rate in Timor-Leste continues to be very high, but the proportion of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion was unknown.

Dr Belton said the law regulating termination of pregnancy in Timor-Leste was highly restrictive and women could not request elective abortion for any reason, including to preserve their health or save their lives.

“A huge problem is that there has been no research conducted on unsafe abortion since Timor-Leste's independence from Indonesia in 2002,” she said.

“This study describes the context of unplanned and unwanted pregnancy and fertility management, as well as investigating and canvassing a way forward.”

Research methods for collating data included a maternal death audit, monitoring service provisions, reproductive health indicators, and face-to-face interviews with doctors, midwives and women recovering from early pregnancy losses.

Dr Belton said that a number of key findings in relation to induced abortion were uncovered.

“Key findings included that induced abortion continued to be performed in secret, 40 per cent of all emergency obstetric care was managing and treating complications from early pregnancy losses, and doctors and midwives continued to be reluctant to speak with women about induced abortion,” she said.

“The legal situation is complex and confusing for health professionals given views on abortion are influenced by the Catholic context of the country.

“Access to family planning information, education and supplies is limited and in three of the four health facilities investigated, evidence-based protocols in the provision of post-abortion care were not used.”

The research was funded and commissioned by The United Nations Population Fund and managed in collaboration with Alola Foundation.

Dr Belton said the research team were extremely grateful that the Ministry of Health also gave permission for the research to be conducted.

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.