This is a statement of the Federation for Women and Family Planning on behalf of the Great Coalition for Equality and Choice from Poland. It was delivered at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 24th in support of the September 28 Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion.
We welcome the report of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice on reasserting equality and countering rollbacks of May 2018. We echo the concerns raised by the Working Group, in particular those around the backlash against sexual and reproductive health and rights which results in creating additional barriers to access legal and safe abortion. We anticipate an expert visit in Poland of the Working Group as stipulated in the report and expect it will contribute to the strengthening of the girls’ and women’s rights which is now particularly needed.
We also welcome the recent joint statement made by the CEDAW and the CRPD that access to safe and legal abortion, as well as related services and information are essential aspects of all women’s reproductive health, including women with disabilities. We couldn’t agree more that States should acknowledge that women’s decisions about their own bodies are personal and private, and place the autonomy of the woman at the centre of policy and law-making related to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion care.
In the light of the upcoming Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion we stress the necessity and urgency to address the human rights violations arising from criminalization of abortion and the denial of access to safe and legal abortion services. We join a collective voice that governments across the world respect, protect and fulfil the right to access safe and legal abortion services and post-abortion care.
The Federation for Women and Family Planning signed the statement developed by Sexual Rights Initiative, Center for Reproductive Rights, Ipas, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, ARROW, AWID and the Swedish Association for Sexuality and Education.
This statement was endorsed by 223 non-governmental organisations from across the Globe and delivered at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 24th.
The focus of this statement is abortion rights defenders (including service providers) and abortion stigma. This initiative builds on last year’s successful joint CSO statement to the Council when over 285 organizations signed onto the statement.
Through the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States explicitly agreed to prioritize the realization of all women’s human rights. From Ireland, to Argentina, to South Korea, to Poland and to the Democratic Republic of Congo, women human rights defenders around the world are taking to the streets, to the courtrooms and to the ballot boxes to reclaim control over their own bodies and lives by demanding access to comprehensive abortion care. We unite in solidarity to recognize the shared roots of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination in our struggles.
Although sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) have been broadly recognized under international law, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) working on these rights often face harassment, discrimination, stigma, criminalization and physical violence.2 As highlighted by UNGA resolution 68/181, the first ever resolution focusing on WHRDs, such abuses are violations of a person’s fundamental rights to life, liberty, psychological and physical integrity, privacy, freedom of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly.
Human rights violations perpetrated against abortion rights defenders and providers are part of a broader framework of backlash against sexual and reproductive rights aimed at instrumentalizing women’s bodies and lives3. Through restrictive and/or discriminatory laws and policies, some states fail to prevent or actively perpetuate these violations. In doing so, they institutionalize abortion stigma and create a hostile environment for abortion providers to carry out their work. Many persist, but others are harassed, or threatened until they cease providing such care. This forces persons – including girls – with unwanted pregnancies to risk their lives, health and well-being by turning to unsafe abortion. It is the State’s obligation to repeal or eliminate laws, policies and practices that criminalize, obstruct or undermine individual’s or group’s access to sexual and reproductive health facilities, services, goods and information, including restrictive abortion laws.
States can no longer ignore the scientific evidence, the jurisprudence and the growing consensus among human rights bodies that abortion rights are human rights. The criminalization of abortion and the failure to ensure access to comprehensive abortion care has been found to be a violation of, inter alia, the rights to health, to bodily autonomy, freedom from discrimination, to the benefits of scientific progress, to privacy and to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment amongst other human rights. In addition, impunity for attacks on abortion rights defenders, including abortion providers, is a clear violation of the principles set forth in the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders.
Therefore, today, on September 28, Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, we stand together as abortion rights defenders, allies and supporters from around the world and call on the Council to condemn attacks on abortion rights defenders and to urgently address the human rights violations arising from the denial of comprehensive abortion care through its resolutions, decisions, dialogues, reviews and debates. Further, we demand that governments across the world respect, protect and fulfill the right of WHRDs working to ensure comprehensive abortion care and post-abortion care to do their work free from all forms of intimidation, harassment and violence from both State and non-State actors.
Thank you, Mr. President.
2 See https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WRGS/SexualHealth/INFO_WHRD_WEB.pdf
3 See A/HRC/32/443