12th FIAPAC Conference Summary

‘Improving Women’s Journeys Through Abortion’

International Federation of Professional Abortion and Contraception Associates (FIAPAC) 12th Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, 13–15 October 2016


More than 600 delegates travelled to FIAPAC’s biennial conference, hosted this time in Lisbon. The local organiser, Teresa Bombas, and her team did us proud, with a warm welcome and comfortable facilities. The conference was opened by a panel that included Francisco George, Director-General of Health for Portugal, who said that abortion had become accepted and integrated into Portuguese society since the passage of the 2007 abortion law. FIAPAC’s President, Sharon Cameron, followed by introducing the theme of ‘Improving women’s journeys through abortion’.

During the conference there was a wide range of free communications that had been submitted: 32 for oral presentation and 120 for poster presentation. Topics covered a broad range of themes including drug regimens, surgical techniques, access to abortion, contraception after abortion, stigma to the Zika virus, pain management, more than one abortion, telemedicine, counselling and ethics.

Conference participants included colleagues whose lives had been threatened by protestors in countries with liberalised abortion laws and colleagues who had experienced imprisonment for performing abortions in countries with restrictive laws. There were many concurrent sessions which made it tantalisingly difficult to choose which sessions to attend. In addition there were a broad range of sessions led by a variety of specialist organisations including the European Society of Contraception, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the Society of Family Planning, Gynuity, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Rebecca Gomperts of Women on Waves started the first plenary session by reflecting on how far society had shifted since their ship had been prevented from entering Portuguese territorial waters by two warships in 2004. Lisa Vicente emphasised how the role of non-governmental organisations and local pressure groups had been indispensable in changing society’s attitude to abortion in Portugal.

A panel from the WHO presented progress to date on their project to lay bare the policies of all countries on abortion. The aim is that this transparency will lead to more accountability for women’s health and rights. It was clear that this was a massive undertaking that would bear fruit in the months to come.

Diana Greene Foster gave us an update on the Turnaway Study, which now has accumulated 5-year follow-up data on women who were denied abortion and women in two comparator groups. Results show that women who opt to have abortions do not differ in terms of their mental wellbeing; however, those denied abortion were more likely to have a household income below the federal poverty line than women who received an abortion. Helena Kopp Kallner showed how task-sharing between doctors and mid-level providers, such as midwives, not only saves money but has non-inferior outcomes and is highly acceptable to women. André Ullman, who worked for Roussel Uclaf during the development of mifepristone, gave a fascinating account of how the newly-discovered drug (1980) survived controversies (1988) and became ready for worldwide distribution following its launch in France (1990).

A session that I had not witnessed before was that on providing safe abortion in humanitarian emergencies. It is now becoming an integral element of care in war zones and refugee camps to offer at least misoprostol and manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) as part of sexual and reproductive healthcare for women in these extreme conditions. The high incidence of gender-based violence in these circumstances was shocking.

The conference closed after an intense 2 days following a comprehensive review of the proceedings by Joyce Arthur. As usual, the conference provided a high standard of science enriched by contributions from many non-medical disciplines. There was also the very valuable opportunity to mix with colleagues from so many countries and for networking that is so essential for those working in abortion care.

The 2018 FIAPAC Conference will be in Nantes, France, a location that is easily accessible by both rail and air, so keep an eye on the FIAPAC website (http://fiapac.org/) for details.

Sam Rowlands

31 October 2016