Medical society engagement in contentious policy reform: the Ethiopian Society for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ESOG) and Ethiopia’s 2005 reform of its Penal Code on Abortion


Globally, but particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, health professionals have significant influence in shaping national health policy, including in the often sensitive field of reproductive health. Obstetrician-gynecologists have perhaps the most clout related to reproductive health policy, given their high levels of training, social standing and male gender. However, their ob-gyn professional societies have rarely supported abortion law reform, despite its promise for reducing women’s mortality and morbidity. This study of the contributions of Ethiopia’s ob-gyn society yields several lessons for leveraging the involvement of ob-gyn involvement in reform elsewhere:

  • Ob-gyn societies can be central to building a research base for reform, conducting evidence-based advocacy and framing the rationale for reform as grounded in public health and maternal mortality prevention;
  • Ob-gyn and ob-gyn society engagement can be grounded in personal and organizational commitments to reducing maternal mortality, including that due to unsafe abortion, and experience with post-abortion care (PAC); and
  • Ob-gyn society policy contributions can capitalize on political openings and can be facilitated by civil society allies.

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Dr. Holcombe’s earlier related work, also based on her dissertation research, focused on Ethiopian midwives’ attitudes toward providing abortion services in the wake of the country’s legal reform.

Sarah Jane Holcombe
Publication date: 
March 12, 2018
Publication type: 
Journal Article