States across the world should act now to decriminalise abortion and make every effort to ensure women and girls have the right to take their own decisions about pregnancy, say a group of UN human rights experts*.
“An estimated 225 million women worldwide are deprived of access to modern contraception, often leading to unplanned pregnancies. For girls, issues arising from pregnancy and childbirth are some of the most common causes of death in developing countries, with those under 15 five times more at risk,” the experts said in a statement to mark International Safe Abortion Day on 28 September.
“Unsafe abortions cause the deaths of some 47,000 women each year and a further five million suffer some form of temporary or permanent disability. Maternal mortality violates the rights to life, health, equality and freedom from being discriminated against.
“Issues around access to safe, legal abortion are at the very core of a woman’s fundamental right to equality, privacy and physical and mental health and these are preconditions for the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms. We hope that important steps taken in some countries to reclaim women’s reproductive rights through referendums, legislative and judicial action, can be followed in others,” the experts added.
“Too many women are physically and verbally mistreated or simply denied emergency medical care after abortions. This amounts to another means of punishment which violates international law and, in many instances, national laws and policies. Governments have a duty to ensure that women and girls who have abortions are treated humanely and without judgement or assumption of violating laws, in particular in cases of miscarriages.
“Legal frameworks for abortion have typically been designed to control women’s decision-making through the use of criminal law. Data from the World Health Organization clearly demonstrates that criminalising the termination of pregnancy does not reduce the number of women who resort to abortion procedures. Rather, it is likely to increase those seeking clandestine and unsafe procedures.
“Concerns about unsafe abortion must be addressed through public health, relevant medical malpractice and civil laws. It is therefore crucial that countries demonstrate their commitment to eliminating discrimination against women in their legislation and to advancing women’s and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights, in accordance with international human rights standards,” the experts emphasized.
(*) The experts: The Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice: current chair Ms Ivana Radačić (Croatia), Ms Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Ms Meskerem Geset Techane (Ethiopia), Ms Melissa Upreti (Nepal/USA) and Ms Elizabeth Broderick (Australia); Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Ms Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women