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Access to safe and legal abortion is a human rights issue, humanists emphasized at the United Nations Human Rights Council this morning.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) called on the Human Rights Council to address the human rights violations arising from criminalization of abortion and the denial of access to safe and legal abortion services.

Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, who spent ten years in prison after suffering a still birth

In her statement, the IHEU’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, highlighted the number of ways that criminalisation and denial of services violates human rights. She pointed out that, these laws constitute a violation of the right to non-discrimination, the right to privacy, and the right to make decisions about one’s own body. In countries such as El Salavador and Paraguay anti-abortion laws have violated the right to be free from torture or inhumane and degrading treatment are also violated daily through criminalization.

Accordingly she called on the Council to do more to address these widespread violations though its resolutions, its debates and its quadrennial review process of every state in the world (the Universal Periodic Review).

Whilst O’Casey welcomed the recent result of the Irish referendum which overturned its constitutional ban on abortion and gave the government power to legislate on it, she also pointed out that such access is a human right protected by international law and its implementation should not be dependent on popular opinion.

Ireland will be joining over 30 countries who in the last 20 years have liberalised their abortions laws, allowing for expanded access to legal abortion. This includes over a dozen countries in Africa, seven in Asia and six in Latin America and the Caribbean. Several of these countries adopted permissive laws that allow abortion on request or on broad socioeconomic grounds.

An estimated 22 million unsafe abortions take place around the world annually. These lead to an estimated 7 million health complications and 47,000 deaths.

O’Casey’s statement follows below in full:


ORAL STATEMENT
International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 38th Session (18th June – 6th July 2018)
General Debate on Item 8
Elizabeth O’Casey

Just over a month ago the Irish people voted to liberalise abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland. This was a long overdue decision and to be celebrated. However, the implementation and respect for human rights should not to be subject to democratic consensus or popular opinion.

The criminalization of abortion and failure to ensure access to quality abortion services is a human rights issue. It violates: the right to non-discrimination and equality; the right to privacy; the right to make decisions about one’s own body. It can also constitute a violation of the right to be free from torture or inhumane and degrading treatment. This has been highlighted by UN bodies and experts repeatedly.

Through the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States explicitly agreed to prioritize the human rights of women, including the eradication of gender-based discrimination and violence.

Yet, roughly 42% of women of reproductive age continue to live in countries where abortion is either prohibited altogether or allowed only to save a woman’s life or protect her health.

We urge the Human Rights Council to address the human rights violations arising from criminalization of abortion and the denial of access to safe and legal abortion services through its resolutions, decisions, debates, and its UPR.

We dedicate this statement to the memory of Savita Halappanavar, whose death it took to force the Irish state to re-assess its cruel anti-abortions laws, to the 14-year-old rape victim has died during childbirth in Paraguay a few months ago, and to El Salvadoran citizen, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, who had ten years of freedom taken from her by the state after suffering a still birth, but who now at last has her freedom again.

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