Abortion care in Georgia: women face big disparity between law and reality

Akhaltsikhe, southwest Georgia

Georgia, a low-middle income country located at the crossroads between western Asia and eastern Europe, has come a long way since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Back then, violent civil unrest against the authoritarian government caused war on the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, and sent the government fleeing to Armenia. A three-year-long civil war created political instability and crippled the economy. Severe, countrywide corruption marred public and private institutions for decades, and issues like healthcare and social welfare were sent to the very bottom of the priority pile.

Since then, democratic reforms have been implemented and much of the country now dreams of joining the European Union. The iconic blue flags with a circle of gold stars hang everywhere – in youth centres, schools, hospitals and even people’s homes. To this day however, Georgia still faces major issues. Parts of the country are disputed and large chunks are under Russian control. Unemployment is high - currently 12.6% of the population are out of work, and this figure increases in rural regions.

The outlook for women in the country is poorer than for men. Georgia is a patriarchal society with hangovers from Soviet times about the ‘traditional’ roles women should play – namely that they should be the main caregivers of the family. Georgia is also a religious country, with 83.4% of the population identifying as Orthodox Christian, and there is a lot of stigma surrounding abortion. The country has a long way to go when it comes to women’s reproductive freedom.

Although Georgia’s legislation requires abortion care to be available to women who need it, in reality there are a number of barriers that harm women by making it difficult if not impossible for them to access compassionate, quality care.

These include the limited number of care providers, high costs, biased and non-confidential counselling and mandatory waiting periods. When it comes to family planning, in a country-wide assessment of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, IPPF's Georgian member HERA XXI estimates that only 17% of women in the country have received family planning information from professional sources.  

The obstacles and barriers which prevent women from accessing compassionate abortion care in Georgia are part of a broader trend. Across Europe and in countries which are strongly influenced by ultraconservative, patriarchal values in neighbouring Russia, coordinated actions by reproductive bullies result in regressive pressures and policies.

With little government support, HERA XXI is working to ensure sexual and reproductive health care and sexuality education for women and young people across the country. The organisation carries out political advocacy to encourage decision-makers to improve women’s access to care. They work with clinics to support the introduction of safer abortion methods, and thanks to a partnership with UNFPA, enable them to provide some contraceptive care free of charge. They also run a peer-to-peer sexuality education scheme, enabling young people to support their friends in developing crucial life skills needed to navigate relationships and sexuality. 

However, with limited funding, HERA XXI alone cannot meet the need. In Akhaltsikhe, a small city in the southwest of Georgia with high levels of poverty and unemployment, for example, they are one of the few organisations providing sexual and reproductive health care and education. Yet they are only able to cover a relatively small part of the region, according to Youth Leader Marine Sudadze. “If we had more funding we would scale up and enter more villages. Large areas of the community are still not being reached,” she says.

Read the next blog in our series on obstacles to abortion care and women's reproductive freedom in Georgia.

Photo: Akhaltsikhe, southwest Georgia. HERA XXI is one of the few organisations providing sexual and reproductive health care and education in the city and surrounding villages. Credit Jon Spaull/IPPF EN