Medical Societies and Contentious Policy Reform: the Ethiopian Society for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ESOG) and Ethiopia’s 2005 Reform of Its Penal Code on Abortion

Sarah Jane Holcombe, University of California, Berkeley

Unsafe abortion is one of the three leading causes of maternal mortality in low-income countries; however, few countries have reformed their laws to permit safer, legal abortion, and professional medical associations have shied from spearheading such reforms. Using interviews with obstetrician-gynecologists (10) and others familiar with the reproductive health policy context in Ethiopia (44), this research examines why, counter to theoretical expectations and experience elsewhere, the Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ESOG) actively supported reform of national law on abortion. We find ESOG participation was motivated by both leadership’s professional experience and personal and ESOG’s organizational commitments to reducing maternal mortality. ESOG policy contributions were also associated with circumstances reducing or removing negative repercussions to involvement in policymaking, including those related to organizational structure and experience and the political environment. This study can inform efforts elsewhere to facilitate medical society contributions to reforms to improve women’s reproductive health.

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Presented in Session 89: Fertility, Family Planning, and Sexual Health: Policies and Politics