Over its nearly five decades of publishing, International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health has periodically released special theme issues focused on important or pressing areas of research. Currently, in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, there may be no topic more important or pressing than abortion. This is especially true in low- and middle-income countries, where induced abortion tends to be legally restricted and highly stigmatized. In much of the Global South, people who need or want to terminate a pregnancy often have little recourse but to seek an unsafe abortion, which can result in medical complications or death—preventable consequences that negatively affect not only individuals but also families, communities and entire health systems. In addition, the illegality and stigmatization of abortion can complicate the research studies and health interventions necessary to improve access to and quality of abortion care in low- and middle-income countries.

Despite the fact that abortion is a frequent topic in IPSRH, and that the journal stopped compiling articles into separate issues in 2019, the editors felt that it was nonetheless important to devote extra attention to abortion in this year’s volume. Moreover, we suspect that many readers continue to have a particular interest in exploring a single topic in depth, and from a variety of perspectives. Thus, we present IPSRH: Focus on Abortion, a special supplement of articles and other content examining the many facets of abortion around the world.

In calling for submissions, we imposed no restrictions on subject matter beyond the general theme of abortion in low- and middle-income countries; accordingly, the articles in this collection reflect the remarkable diversity of the abortion research landscape. Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean are all represented, and the study settings range from individual countries to most of the planet (the latter in a global analysis of abortion laws from nearly 200 countries). Five of the six included studies are quantitative, but the collection also includes a qualitative analysis (on Chilean medical and midwifery faculty’s perspectives on conscientious objection to abortion), a special report (on expanding access to comprehensive abortion care to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh) and several commentary pieces. The content encompasses diverse aspects of the abortion experience, and touches on innovations in research methodology, changes in law and policy, and implementation of health programs.

Many of the articles provide some cause for optimism. For example, the global analysis of abortion laws found a continuing trend toward liberalization, and indeed two of the studies presented here were conducted in countries (Chile and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) where pregnancy termination is now permitted under some circumstances but was completely illegal the last time IPSRH published an issue dedicated to abortion (in 2012). However, those same studies reveal that potent barriers to abortion access remain: Support for conscientious objection to abortion provision remains strong among some medical and midwifery faculty in Chile, and most health facilities in the DRC are not yet prepared to provide comprehensive abortion care. Taken together, the articles and other content found in IPSRH: Focus on Abortion point to the progress that has been made in the study of, access to and provision of abortion worldwide—and to the critical need to make further progress. We hope you find this supplement to be informative, thought-provoking and inspiring. —The Editors