Irish Medical News

UN report calls for abortion rights


A new hard-hitting report from the UN Special Rapporteur on health as a human right has stated that all UN states must provide safe abortion and contraception for women.



The official UN document has come under fire by anti-abortion groups but the UN Special Rapporteur and report author Mr Arnand Grover argues that countries should decriminalise abortion and the supply of all forms of contraception to fully ensure the right to health.

Mr Grover presented his interim report on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health to the UN General Assembly late last year. The report argues that the physiology of human reproduction and the social, cultural, and economic contexts of sexuality, fertility, pregnancy, and parenthood made infringement of women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health more likely.

“Criminal laws penalising and restricting induced abortion provide examples of state interference with women’s right to health,” said Mr Grover.

He argued that such laws restricted women’s control over their bodies, undermined their dignity, and infringed their autonomy. These laws are ineffective at discouraging women from seeking abortions, so their ultimate effect was only in determining whether the abortion was safe or not.

Unsafe abortions account for 13 per cent of all maternal deaths globally and cause injury to around five million women, according to UN statistics. Mr Grover said that a greater number of unsafe abortions occurred when the procedure was restricted and that in the area of sexual and reproductive health “decriminalisation saves lives”.

“Research shows that laws restricting access to comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health diminished women’s preparedness for their reproductive lives and therefore made them more vulnerable to abuse, unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.

Mr Grover pointed to evidence showing that access to voluntary family planning could reduce maternal deaths by between 25 per cent and 40 per cent, while condom use among men lowered the incidence of sexually transmitted infections, when used correctly and consistently, as well as being 98 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy.

Some states have also proposed or enacted laws prohibiting certain conduct during pregnancy, he said, such as the use of illegal drugs and alcohol, failure to follow doctor’s instructions, or failure to refrain from sexual intercourse, which “infringed the rights of pregnant women and deterred some from accessing health services”.

In particular, the report states, a number of women have been prosecuted for use of illicit drugs, including under pre-existing laws relating to child abuse and attempted murder.

“The application of such laws as a means to achieving certain public health outcomes is often ineffective and disproportionate,” Mr Grover told the General Assembly.

“Realisation of the right to health requires the removal of barriers that interfere with individual decision-making on health-related issues and with access to health services, education and information, in particular on health conditions that only affect women and girls. In cases where a barrier is created by a criminal law or other legal restriction, it is the obligation of the State to remove it.”

The report quotes the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which emphasises aspects of the right to sexual and reproductive health in article 12.2 (a).

General Comment No 14 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that the right to health includes measures to improve child and maternal health, sexual and reproductive health services, including access to family planning, prenatal and post-natal care, emergency obstetric services and access to information, as well as to resources necessary to act on that information. Moreover, it notes that women’s right to health requires the removal of all barriers interfering with access to health services, education and information, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health.

“In applying a right-to-health approach, States should undertake reforms toward the development and implementation of policies and programmes relating to sexual and reproductive health as required by international human rights law,” said Mr Grover. The UN General Assembly has therefore called on all States to:

Develop comprehensive family planning policies and programmes, which provide a wide range of goods, services and information relating to contraception and are available, accessible and of good quality;

Decriminalise the supply and use of all forms of contraception and voluntary sterilisation for fertility control and remove requirements for spousal and/or parental consent;

• Take steps to ensure the availability, accessibility and quality of a full range of contraceptive methods, including both pharmaceutical and surgical contraceptive methods;

• Take steps to standardise national  curricula to ensure that sexual and reproductive education is comprehensive, evidence-based, and includes information regarding human rights, gender and sexuality;

• Decriminalise abortion, including related laws, such as those concerning abetment of abortion.



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