Campaigning for the right to safe abortion – Highlights from 2015
21 December 2015
Human rights bodies call for safe, legal abortion
United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for more grounds for abortion to be made legal, for greater access to contraception to reduce unwanted pregnancies, and for public education on safe abortion and improved access to safe abortion services in Canada, Malawi, Nepal, Paraguay, Romania, Russia, Senegal, and Slovakia.
“Criminalization of health services that only women require, including abortion, is a form of discrimination against women.“
Very important was the Joint Statement by UN human rights experts, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Women and Human Rights Defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which included a strong paragraph in unsafe abortion, which expressed grave concern about reports of women who have been imprisoned for seeking emergency health services, including due to miscarriages, experience institutional abuse and discrimination by health service providers as a result of public policies and laws or on grounds of social and economic status, or are reported on or denounced by their doctors to the authorities.
Successful abortion law reform leading to partial decriminalisation of abortion and greater access to abortion services took placein France, India, Kyrgyzstan,Mexico (states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Tlaxcala), Mozambique, Nepal (government abortion services now free), and Sierra Leone. In a major reversal, in the Dominican Republic a law passed at the end of 2014 making abortion legal on very limited grounds, due to be implemented in December 2015, was unfortunately declared unconstitutional.
Campaigns, debates, government-sponsored or recognised initiatives to draft proposals for law reform and other initiatives supporting progressive reform of abortion laws or opposing restrictionstook place in Botswana, Costa Rica, Belgium, India, Ireland, Kenya, Malawi, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Morocco, Palestine Occupied West Bank, Peru, Uruguay, and Zambia. Anti-abortion efforts to restrict abortion on grounds of sex selection were shown up for what they were – an anti-abortion attempt to impose fetal rights.
Positive statements by political leaders in support of abortion rights
– Croatia President Josipovic said conscientious objection to abortion should be respected but women should have the right to choose.
– Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, the serious consequences of criminalization of abortion for women and for health personnel. He talked about the fundamental right to life of pregnant women, the right to respect for their human dignity, and physical and moral integrity, and the obligation to provide medical assistance.
– Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford said abortion laws need adjustment.
– Organization of American States (OAS) recommended that all governments decriminalize abortion in cases of rape and incest, when the woman’s health or life is at risk and in cases of fetal impairment.
– Morocco Health Minister Houssain Louardi announced the opening of a national debate on abortion, in which the King also became involved.
– Democratic Republic of Congo Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Evariste Boshab, advocated the decriminalization of abortion to reduce the phenomenon of abandoned babies.
– Jamaica Youth and Culture Minister, Lisa Hanna, said it was time the decision was made to remove the State’s veto power that interferes with women’s control over their bodies and makes it unlawful for them to have an abortion.
– Malawi Civil society organisations, traditional leaders, members of Parliament and medical experts called for review of Section 149 of Malawi’s Penal Code if indeed government is serious in tackling high maternal mortality rates, including from unsafe abortions. Later in the year, leaders from all 11 political parties in Malawi signed an official communique supporting both law reform on abortion and the passing of a proposed draft bill into law.
– Uganda Health Ministry and partners published standards and guidelines on reducing maternal morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions.
– Peru President Ollanta Humala said he was in favour of the right to abortion for women victims of rape.
Peru: I had an abortion because I was raped. (Getty)
Campaigns by women’s rights groups against anti-abortion attempts to restrict existing abortion laws and services were carried out in Brazil, Canada (Quebec), Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and USA.
New Brunswick, Canada: Save the Morgenthaler clinic
Court judgements related to women’s abortion rights
Northern Ireland, India, USA, Kenya, New Zealand, France.
Women/abortion providers arrested/imprisoned/defended for having/providing abortion in Chile, Malaysia (woman freed on appeal almost a year after arrest, then her doctor was summoned), USA (state of Indiana, state of Texas, state of Tennessee), United Arab Emirates, England, Morocco (3 women), Jamaica (a doctor), Rwanda (25% of women in prison are there for abortion), El Salvador (human rights case filed on behalf of nine women who miscarried and are wrongfully imprisoned).
Safe pregnancy and abortion pills approved
– Mifepristone for medical abortion approved in Canada
– Misoprostol for treating post-partum haemorrhage included in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines
Studies published on abortion provision
A number of national studies, e.g. in Sweden and Mexico, and a WHO guideline on mid-level abortion providers were published that confirmed the efficacy, safety and high level of acceptability of medical abortion provided by nurses, midwives and nurse-midwives at primary care level.
Action to improve abortion services
France (no waiting period, on request, improved services); Ghana (train more providers); Australia (national access via telemedicine for rural women); New Zealand (reduce waiting times, support under-16s, later abortions).
Call for buffer zones at abortion clinics to stop anti-abortion harassment and threats in several states of Australia, Canada, England, Northern Ireland, Romania
Campaign newsletters, social media and website
We published a newsletter three times per week in 2015, or about 150 newsletters, which reported on all the issues summarised above in almost every country in the world. These included abortion law and policy, service delivery, abortion methods, research and publications on abortion, women’s experiences, training in abortion provision, and features on leaders in the movement. We also disseminated solidarity requests through the newsletter and other listserves. The social media work for the Campaign was greatly expanded in 2015 by a full-time assistant based in Peru. In the second half of 2015, we also launched the Campaign website, which will be developed much further in 2016 to become an information resource.
Solidarity requests supported/disseminated by the Campaign
El Salvador to release Las 17 – two of whom were released during 2015.
Chile – support for abortion law reform tabled by Michelle Bachelet
Spain – to oppose parental consent on all 16-17 year old girls seeking an abortion
Paraguay – allow safe abortion for 10-year-old girl pregnant after sexual abuse
Northern Ireland – petition to drop the charges against a mother who bought abortion pills for daughter
Uruguay – petition against restrictive conscientious objection ruling
Poland – support for letter to Polish MPs opposing drastic restrictions to already restrictive abortion law
Uganda – Petition to the Speaker of the Parliament: Have a clear and properly defined law on safe abortion in Uganda
Brazil – Petition to protest against the backlash against legal abortion services.
Australia – Petition to Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, to allow a young woman refugee living on the Pacific island of Nauru who was raped to have an abortion in Australia.
Chile: President Bachelet Brazil: “Cunha – out!”
Northern Ireland Poland
Leaders and networks featured in the Campaign newsletter:
– Monica Roa, Women’s Link Worldwide, Colombia
– Orientame, Colombia
– Ninuk Widyantoro, Co-Founder of YKP Women’s Health Foundation, Indonesia
– Women Help Women
– CLACAI (Latin American Consortium against Unsafe Abortion)
– Asia Safe Abortion Partnership Youth Champions
– Abortion Funds helping women: USA, Mexico, UK, Germany
– Over 200 activists challenge the police in Northern Ireland: “We’ve broken the law – prosecute us!!”
– Gynuity Health Projects
– Safe Abortion Information Hotlines – Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Poland, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela
Safe Abortion Information Hotlines
ASAP Youth Champions
International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September 2015
We published five calls for action, one per month from May 2015, and for the Day itself we published a statement, we joined the global Tweetathon and published a newsletter with tweets in English, French and Spanish, and a slide show of the history of the day in words and visuals (view here). Afterwards, we published six newsletters with all the reports we received from around the world of activities for the Day of Action. In 2016, and we decided to campaign for International Safe Abortion Day to become an official UN day.
We published a total of 83 reports from 47 countries and international NGOs. For the first time ever, government Ministries in Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo and France participated actively in the Day of Action.
Priority Campaign issues for 28 September 2015:
– Information on safe abortion for women and adolescent girls
– Training for safe abortion provision
– Availability of safe abortion methods
– Research and advocacy on sexual abuse of girls aged 8-14 and involuntary pregnancy
– Advocacy against the use of the criminal law against women who have abortions and miscarriages and also against safe abortion providers
– Advocacy for the means to have a safe abortion to be available to displaced, migrant and refugee women and girls
El Salvador (Photo: CAWN)
Peace Foundation, Pakistan providing misoprostol
Role play, PFPPA Palestine
Community Network for Reproductive Rights, Uganda
International Days and other Campaign statements
– World Health Day, 7 April 2015, we called on the UN and all governments to respect, protect and fulfil women’s right to health and life: safe pregnancy, safe motherhood, safe abortion.
– International Day of the Midwife, 5 May 2015, we promoted Midwifery Competency No.7, competency in facilitation of abortion-related care – knowledge, understanding, skills and ability to provide abortion services.
– World Population Day, 11 July 2015, we called on UNFPA and other UN and humanitarian agencies to include medical abortion pills for safe abortion care in emergency medical kits, along with essential medicines for obstetric care, contraceptive, emergency contraception and prevention and treatment for STIs/HIV.
– International Youth Day, 12 August 2015, we asked, with a doctor from Uganda:
– World Humanitarian Day, 19 August 2015, we published news on the plight of pregnant Syrian women (432,000) and Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan (41,000).
– International Literacy Day, 8 September 2015, we called for safe abortion literacy and disseminated examples of education on abortion for young people as part of sex and relationships education.
– World Teachers Day, 5 October 2015, we celebrated teachers of sexuality education and countries that ensure that all young people benefit from comprehensive sexuality education.
– International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October 2015, we called for an end to violence against children and published articles on this theme.
– 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, 25 November 2015, we summarised the global public health consequences of unsafe abortion as a form of gender violence against women, a report on anti-abortion violence in the USA as a hate crime against women, and more.
In addition, we wrote a number of statements and signed others written by colleagues, e.g. in support of inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the right to safe abortion, in the new Sustainability Development Goals and in targets and indicators under those goals, and in other initiatives, such as the statement on the 48th Session of the UN Commission on Population and Development, and one on the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. In July 2015, we prepared a statement for and participated in a consultation by the Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Article 6, the right to life, along with many other women’s rights groups and organisations.
Membership of the Campaign
The Campaign now has almost 1,000 members, including international, regional, national and local groups and organisations, as well as many individuals such as health care professionals, policymakers, academics and students, who support women’s right to safe abortion.
Facebook fans 20,620 Twitter followers 1,395 in December 2015.
Heartfelt thanks to Fabiola Bustamante in Lima who has done an excellent job of social media work for the Campaign this year, greatly boosting our contacts and outreach, for preparing and sending out the Campaign newsletter, for improving the design and layout of the newsletter and social media, and for assistance with the membership list, gathering members’ logos, translation into Spanish of tweets and a range of texts, and a host of other tasks in 2015 that made everything possible. She is leaving for further studies in communications, and we wish her the very best for the future.
And to everyone who has supported, contributed to and participated in the Campaign in 2015