BBC World Service

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Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.


How Changing Abortion Laws Around the World Affects Women’s Health

June 22nd, 2016

Episode 97 of 158 episodes

Every day, around 22,000 women suffer from complications related to an unsafe abortion. Every 11 minutes one of these women dies. In countries where abortion is illegal women are forced to use underground abortion services which put their health at risk. This week thousands of people took part in a march in the Polish capital Warsaw, in protest at a proposal to tighten the country’s abortion laws. A drone carrying abortion pills was flown across the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland by the reproductive rights group ROSA. Although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, abortion is illegal there in most circumstances. ROSA’s spokesperson Rita Harrold says they wanted to draw attention to the journeys which women from both countries make in order to end unwanted pregnancies. In other countries there are new attempts to make safe abortions legal in certain circumstances. Sierra Leone has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and some of these deaths occur during illegal abortions. To prevent these deaths parliament has voted for a bill to allow terminations up to 12 weeks pregnancy and up to 24 weeks in certain circumstances. But for some it is more than a medical issue and religious groups are opposed to the change in the law. So the president has asked for further consultation and that the issues should be put to a referendum. Ufuoma Festus Omo Obi, who is the country director for Marie Stopes International in Sierra Leone, believes that if the law is passed it would improve the lives of women. Around the world more than one in ten 13 - 15-year-olds smoke. In some countries the rates are much higher. If they continue to smoke long term they will shorten their lives by an average of 10 years. Because nicotine is addictive giving up smoking is difficult. So there is a push to deter people from starting smoking in the first place by hiding cigarettes behind the counter in shops – a technique which really does seem to work. If you stick your tongue out at a baby they might do it back to you. This is called imitation - a behaviour which psychologists have used to demonstrate which skills we are born with and which we learn over time. A landmark study of babies from the 1970s suggested we entered the world with an ability to copy others’ facial expressions. But could new research mean that the textbooks need rewriting? A study published in the journal Current Biology by Janine Ooestenbrook from York University – with the help of 109 babies – appears to suggest that they learn to imitate. (Photo: Pro-choice campaigners march, June 2016, Warsaw, Poland, against proposed changes to restrictive abortion law that would effectively ban terminations. Credit: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

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