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Access to Abortion is a Human Right

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Access to safe and legal abortion is a human rights issue, and its availability is the best way to protect autonomy and reduce maternal mortality and morbidity.

Is abortion a human rights issue?

Access to safe, legal abortion is a human rights issue. The official interpretation of international human rights law establishes that denying abortion to women, girls and other pregnant people is a form of discrimination and endangers a range of human rights. UN human rights treaty bodies regularly call on governments to criminalize abortion in all cases and to ensure access to safe, legal abortion, at least in certain circumstances.

What are the human rights consequences of restricting or restricting abortion access?

Countries have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, including rights related to sexual and reproductive health and autonomy. In situations where safe and legal abortion services are unreasonably restricted or not fully available, many other internationally protected human rights, including the right to non-discrimination and equality, may be at risk; for life, health and information; for freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; for confidentiality and bodily autonomy and integrity; Determining the number and distance of children; for freedom; to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress; And for freedom of conscience and religion.

These rights are set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are protected in several international treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture. (CAT), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as well as regional-level treaties in Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

For nearly two decades, Human Rights Watch has documented human rights harms of restricted or restricted access to abortion in countries around the world, including the US, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Ireland.

What is Human Rights Watch’s position on abortion?

Human Rights Watch believes that reproductive rights are human rights, including the right to access abortion. States have an obligation to provide safe and legal abortion access to women, girls and other pregnant people as part of their basic human rights obligations.

As Human Rights Watch called in an amicus curiae brief to high courts in countries around the world – from Brazil and Colombia to South Korea and most recently in the United States with partner organizations – international human rights law and relevant jurisprudence came to this conclusion. Support that the decision as to abortion without interference or unreasonable restriction by the State or third party belongs to the pregnant person alone.

Is the right to life at risk when access to abortion is restricted or restricted?

Yes. Legal restrictions on abortion often result in more illegal abortions, which can also be unsafe and lead to higher maternal mortality and morbidity. As a result, the lack of access to safe and legal abortion puts the lives of pregnant people at risk.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls and young women aged 15 to 19, and children aged 10 to 14 have more health complications and complications from pregnancy than adults. The risk of death is higher. , WHO has also found that lifting the ban on abortion reduces maternal mortality.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC), which monitors states’ compliance with the ICCPR, has noted links between restrictive abortion laws and threats to the lives of women and girls. It has clearly clarified that States Parties cannot in any way regulate access to abortion that requires pregnant people to resort to unsafe abortions, and States Parties to prevent risks to the life and health of pregnant people. to provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion. , and to ensure that they are not subjected to substantial pain or suffering, especially in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or the pregnancy is not viable.


Do restrictive abortion policies reduce abortion rates?

The abortion ban does not prevent abortion. Research has shown that when abortion is banned or banned, the number of abortions does not decrease. Abortions just go underground. This increases the risk of both unsafe procedures and people being reported to the police or prosecuted for suspected abortion.

The rate of unsafe abortion in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws is about 45 times higher than in countries where abortion is legal and unrestricted.

Restrictive abortion policies push pregnant women seeking abortions, especially those living in poverty or rural areas, into unsafe, unregulated environments. The WHO also states that the lack of access to safe, affordable, timely, and respectable abortion care, as well as the promotion of stigma associated with abortion, pose risks to the life-long physical and mental well-being of abortion seekers.

Who will be hurt most by restrictions on access to abortion?

Not all pregnant people are likely to experience the human rights and health harms of restricting abortion equally. Young people and marginalized groups, including Black, Indigenous and other people of color, those living in economic poverty, and sexual and gender minorities, are more likely to be harmed. The UN Human Rights Committee has recognized that the lack of availability of reproductive health information and services, including abortion, undermines women’s right to non-discrimination.

The United Nations Committee on Human Rights, like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, has also noted that a ban on abortion results in a disproportionate practice of illegal, unsafe abortion by poor and rural women or women where abortion occurs. Is. Restricted. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has also said that punitive abortion laws violate children’s right to freedom from discrimination.

Even where abortion is technically legal, heavy restrictions can make it inaccessible to marginalized people. It forces pregnant people, especially from marginalized groups, to seek unsafe and covert abortion opportunities and risk criminal or civil penalties, even when their circumstances fall within what is legally permissible.

In addition, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated, “[a] wide range of laws, policies and practices undermine the right to autonomy and equality in the full enjoyment of the right to sexual and reproductive health, and to non-discrimination , for example criminalizing abortion or restrictive abortion laws.” It has also noted that restrictions on abortion particularly affect women living in poverty and with no or little formal education. Similarly, six UN experts stressed in a 2015 joint news release that in El Salvador, “a complete ban on abortion disproportionately affects women who are poor.”

What has the United Nations said about the lack of access and criminalization of abortion?

The United Nations human rights treaty body, which monitors countries’ compliance with relevant treaties and reports or advises on human rights relating to specific subjects or countries, has consistently advocated for the non-criminalization of abortion and the full realization of sexual and reproductive rights. Invited with secure access. Legal abortion.

Examples of statements from these systems regarding abortion include the following:

The CEDAW Committee, which oversees CEDAW compliance, stated that:

Unsafe abortion is a major cause of maternal mortality and morbidity. Thus, States Parties should at least legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threat to the life and/or health of the mother, or serious fetal harm, as well as provide women with access to quality post-abortion care. especially in cases of complications resulting from unsafe abortion. State parties should also remove punitive measures for women who have abortions.

The committee, reviewing compliance with the treaty, has made similar recommendations to several governments. These recommendations generally call on governments to outlaw abortion in all cases, to legalize abortion under the circumstances outlined above, and to guarantee access.

The Human Rights Committee, which oversees states’ compliance with the ICCPR, has noted the relationship between restrictive abortion laws and threats to the lives of women and girls, and the obligations of states parties to protect their right to life. The scope is clarified. In particular, “restrictions on the ability of women or girls to have an abortion should not, inter alia, endanger their lives.” The committee has frequently expressed concern about the criminalization of abortion and called for expanded access.

Like the CEDAW Committee, the Committee on Human Rights, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (which oversees ICESCR), and the Committee against Torture (which oversees the CAT) have called for the removal of penalties for abortion and its implementation. Said. Measures to ensure safe, legal access to abortion. Where safe abortion is not available, it can pose risks to mental health, including severe suffering and the risk of suicide. The link between restrictions in access to mental health and reproductive health is so clear that the United Nations Committee against Torture has expressed concern at the severe physical and mental suffering and distress experienced by women and girls due to abortion restrictions, and concluded concluded that criminalization and accessibility of abortion, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment may be inconsistent with the government’s duty to uphold the right.

Similarly, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child urged states to “criminalize abortion to ensure that girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, in the best interests of pregnant adolescents.” Review the law to guarantee and ensure that their views are always heard and respected in their abortion-related decisions.” In several individual states’ reviews of compliance with the treaty, called termination observations, the committee explicitly called for decriminalizing abortion “under all circumstances.”

The UN Special Envoy on the Right to Health has said that criminal laws punishing and prohibiting induced abortion “are permissible barriers to the realization of women’s right to health and must be abolished.”

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