Safe abortions for all women who need them – not just the rich, say UN experts


(Human Rights Bodies / Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights)

GENEVA (27 September 2017) – Speaking ahead of International Safe Abortion Day, a group of United Nations human rights experts* has called on States across the world to repeal laws that criminalize and unduly restrict abortion and policies based on outdated stereotypes, to release all women in prison on abortion charges and to counter all stigma against abortion.

The experts also called for 28 September to become an official UN day for safe abortion worldwide, to help encourage Governments to decriminalize abortion and provide reproductive health services in a legal, safe and affordable manner. Their full statement is as follows:

“Women’s ability to make free choices for themselves and their families should not be privileges reserved for the rich, but should be the right of every woman and girl around the world. The same is true of the right to health and to freedom from discrimination.

Too many women around the world still continue to suffer from discriminatory laws that restrict their access to adequate health care and limit their abilities to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

To mark this year’s International Safe Abortion Day, we urge all States to end the criminalization of abortion and to ensure that all women are able to access all necessary health services, including sexual and reproductive health care, in a manner that is safe, affordable and consistent with their human rights.

We urge States to ensure that their laws, policies and practices are built on their human rights obligations and on the recognition of women’s dignity and autonomy.

At the moment, many factors contribute to women being denied essential health services for the termination of pregnancies and post-abortion care. These include criminalization, reduced availability of services, stigmatization, deterrence and derogatory attitudes of health-care professionals. These factors push millions of women into unsafe abortions and leave them without essential treatment for their recovery.

Denying women access to necessary health care is inherently discriminatory and a violation of their human rights. This discrimination is compounded for many women in vulnerable situations, including girls and adolescents who may face additional restrictions on their access to care, and women living in poverty who may lack the resources to access safe abortions.

Restrictions on access to safe abortion are the result of societal attitudes that stigmatize women and subject their bodies to other people’s political, cultural, religious and economic purposes. Criminalization of abortion further perpetuates stigma and discrimination, and infringes women’s dignity and bodily integrity.

The mental and physical suffering that women endure when they are denied the procedure, or the stigma they face for seeking it, are further violations of their human rights.

Over the course of the past 30 years, the Safe Abortion Day movement has spread from Latin America and the Caribbean and is now marked around the world, helping to persuade Governments to decriminalize the termination of pregnancy, end the stigma and discrimination around the practice, and provide services in a legal, safe and affordable manner.

We join our voices to the strong and brave ones of many non-governmental organizations calling for safe abortion worldwide. And we request that 28 September be made a UN official international day on safe abortion.”

Many international and regional human rights instruments have affirmed that ensuring women’s human rights requires access to safe abortion and post-abortion services and care, including the CEDAW Convention, the Convención de Belém do Pará and the Maputo Protocol of 2005. The 2016 CESCR General Comment No. 22 also calls for guaranteeing women and girls access to safe abortion services and quality post-abortion care to prevent maternal mortality and morbidity.

(*) The UN experts: Kamala Chandrakirana, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dubravka Simonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

For further information, please refer to the following documents:
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Report on health and safety by the UN Working Group on discrimination against women

Report on the right to health of adolescents by the UN Special Rapporteur on health

Report on gender perspectives by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture