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The role of health care providers in expanding the legal grounds for safe abortion: insights from Argentina, Ireland and South Korea

Argentina, South Korea and the Republic of Ireland

Abortion laws and regulations are key in creating an enabling environment that facilitates the advancement of people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and well-being. Notwithstanding the recent retrogressions on abortion laws in various parts of the world, legal frameworks regulating access to safe abortion have been progressively liberalised around the world over the last century. While healthcare providers have been recognised as key health advocates, their specific role in influencing abortion law reforms has been scarcely studied in academic literature.


In order to better understand their (potential) role, KIT conducted a qualitative multi-method study was conducted in 2021 focusing on three countries that recently liberalised their abortion legal frameworks: Argentina, South Korea and Ireland. Firstly, a systematic literature review was done to synthesise and map research findings on the role of healthcare providers in (advocacy) efforts to expand grounds for legal abortion worldwide. Then, for each country, a desk review and key informant interviews were conducted with actors in advocacy for legal change, most with healthcare providers and some with activists and members of civil society organisations.


The study results indicate that healthcare providers were perceived to have contributed to the expansion of legal abortion through their influence of public and legal debates thanks to  the scientific credibility and trust of their voice and argumentation which counteracted anti-rights arguments and filled in gaps in abortion narratives, the amplification of women’s experiences through their testimonies, or the contacts and entry points with governmental bodies. These healthcare providers were generally individual obstetricians-gynaecologists or general practitioners who were already engaged in networks of health professionals or had previous experience as leaders or advocates.

In a global context of social and political contention around abortion, extending the engagement of healthcare providers in law and policy liberation on abortion is crucial. This requires recognising the ample diversity of roles that healthcare providers can take up, creating a safe environment in which they can operate, equipping them with an ample set of skills that go beyond the medical expert role and facilitating strategic partnerships that seek complementarity between multiple stakeholders building on the uniqueness of each actor’s expertise.


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