In a panel discussion held on Monday, November 6th, the Ethiopian Society Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ESOG) shared its invaluable experience in advancing safe abortion access and policy reform in Ethiopia. The event, which took place at the Best Western Plus Addis Ababa Hotel, brought together key stakeholders, medical professionals, and activists to discuss strategies for enhancing safe abortion services and overcoming challenges in a region where access to safe abortion remains a pressing issue.

The panel discussion, titled "Pioneering the Pathway to Access: Sharing strategies to inform MSI's Future Abortion Programming from Ethiopia," addressed three critical topics:

Dr. Abebe Shibru, Country Director for Marie Stopes International Ethiopia (MSIE), commended Ethiopia's progress in abortion policy and guidelines, emphasizing that the nation serves as a beacon in the region. He highlighted three key approaches that played a pivotal role in achieving abortion reform. Additionally, Dr. Dr. Leilena Shimeles another panelist, discussed the collaborative efforts that formed the national movement for reform and the challenges and compromises required for success.

Alemayehu Hunduma, head of RH, FP, Adolescent and Youth Health Desk at the Ministry of Health highlighted Ethiopia's unique commitment to scaling safe abortion access, including recent initiatives for task-sharing and demedicalization. Overcoming resistance to this approach was a significant focus of the discussion.

Eyob Mohammed, ESOG’s Project Coordinator for Changing the Narrative around Safe abortion in Ethiopia Project, discussed ESOG's role in the 2005 reform of the Penal Code on abortion and shared insights into further increasing access to safe abortion services.  Coordinated by Eyob, the project being implemented by ESOG with a support from MSI aims at building supporting environment, institutionalizing and evidence generation.

Dr. Demeke Desta, Country Director, Ipas Ethiopia, voiced concerns about the growing opposition to safe abortion in Ethiopia, which poses a risk to the progress made thus far. The discussion delved into the experiences of this opposition in communities and among health care providers. Ato Abebe Kebede, Executive Director for the Consortium of Reproductive Health Associations (COHRA), addressed the critical role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in safeguarding Ethiopia's present safe abortion law. He shared information about the work being done to create new narratives around safe abortion to reach the silent majority.

The format of the panel was discussion and Q & A, skillfully facilitated by MSI-Kenya’s Country Director, Dr. Joan Oracha. The insights and strategies shared during the panel will undoubtedly provide valuable guidance for MSI's future abortion programming in Ethiopia and may serve as a source of inspiration for countries facing similar challenges.

Ethiopia's commitment to safe abortion access and the invaluable contributions of organizations like MSIE, ESOG, and COHRA reflect the country's dedication to the cause. By sharing their experiences and strategies, these experts hope to pave the way for safer and more accessible abortion services, setting an example for the region and the world.

As the discussion concluded, the participants remained hopeful about the future of safe abortion access in Ethiopia and inspired to continue their collaborative efforts to protect women's reproductive rights.