‘Our actions have a direct impact on the lives of thousands of women and girls’
Malena Morales, Ipas Bolivia Country Director, shares why she’s a passionate advocate for abortion rights
Ipas Bolivia Country Director Malena Morales first joined Ipas in 1999 and served as a medical advisor and coordinator of multi-year projects—including one on postabortion care and one to improve the community-level response to sexual violence—before becoming country director. Dr. Morales, a medical doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, has trained providers from Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on comprehensive postabortion care services and has authored publications on sexual and reproductive rights and abortion.
Below, Dr. Morales shares how the safe abortion movement in Bolivia has evolved and why advocates must continue the fight.
What changes have you seen during your professional career in Bolivia? Has the safe abortion movement changed?
Yes, there has been positive change—not the one we would like, which would be the decriminalization of abortion—but there has been positive progress. When we began, we could not even talk about complications from unsafe abortion; we could not talk about contraception, or sexual and reproductive health in general, much less about sexual and reproductive rights.
What do you think about the situation in Bolivia today with respect to sexual and reproductive rights?
It is a good time for sexual and reproductive rights in Bolivia, since there are very important authorities upholding those rights and laying the groundwork for making progress. However, political pressure from opposition parties and the Church is very strong and does not allow for generating the changes required, as these authorities express their will.
What motivates you or inspires you to do this work and advocate for women’s sexual and reproductive rights?
Because I believe that sexual and reproductive rights are human rights that promote women’s and men’s ability to have control over very personal issues. These rights have an important impact on people’s quality of life, health, freedom, sexuality and reproduction.
As a doctor, how do you use your experience to promote Ipas’s work?
The fact that I am an OB-GYN has really supported my work at Ipas; working with women as a physician has allowed me to know up close what they feel and think when facing an unwanted pregnancy, what their realities are if they decide to terminate the pregnancy and what their expectations, hopes and dreams in life are. In addition, I’ve seen cases of women with complications from unsafe abortion as a result of our country’s legal restrictions.
And, of course, my knowledge of medicine has helped me understand the need to have technical standards and protocols from the Ministry of Health to standardize care at the national level.
How do you feel when you observe or participate in an Ipas training for health-care providers?
For about 14 years, I have been a trainer for health-care providers in Bolivia and in other countries. For a professional, it is a challenge to train on the issue of abortion, due to the stigmatization faced personally and by one’s family. Now, in my director role with Ipas, my field experience has allowed me to generate new strategies that support women’s access to safe abortion care.
What advice do you have for the new generation of advocates for safe, legal abortion?
This work bears a very significant social burden of stigma for professionals and our families that we must be ready to take on. We need to be completely convinced that our progress on the issue of abortion is not fast or easy, but each accomplishment is invaluable and has a direct impact on women’s quality of life. Likewise, we must not forget that a very important pillar is prevention of unwanted pregnancy, which should go hand in hand with our abortion-related work. We must address the causes of unwanted pregnancy that cause a woman to seek abortion, often under unsafe conditions.
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