The prohibition on abortion constitutes violence against women

Press release
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Across all continents, repressive legislation criminalising access to abortion remains in force, generating serious violations of women’s rights, states FIDH on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile and Dominican Republic, abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. In Ireland, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Bangladesh, extremely restrictive laws only allow abortion if the woman’s life is in danger. In Malta, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape or foetal abnormality. In Poland, abortion has been prohibited since 1997 except in cases of rape, incest, foetal malformation or danger to the woman’s life. A similar reform was recently avoided in Spain as a result of massive protests by defenders of women’s rights. In several other countries such as Morocco, abortion is only permitted to “protect the health” of the woman. All these laws include additional procedural constraints that prevent women having access to abortion, even in the circumstances permitted by law.

These are violent, even deadly laws. Not only do they control women’s bodies but they force women to seek clandestine, unsafe abortions, with serious risks for the woman’s health, sometimes putting her life in danger. For girls, carrying a pregnancy to term can cause lasting damage to their bodies, as well as compromising their futures, said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH.

These laws violate women’s rights to health and to life by restricting or eliminating their right to control their own bodies. In addition, most of these states have adopted legislation inflicting criminal penalties on women who have abortions and the health workers who perform them. Throughout the world, women and doctors find themselves in jail, serving sentences for performing illegal abortions. In Senegal, women who have abortions are liable to up to a sentence of two years in prison. According to official figures, during the first six months of 2013, approximately 40 women were held in pre-trial detention for having practised abortion. In Nicaragua, abortion carries a sentence of up to 8 years’ imprisonment. In Ireland, prison sentences can be up to 14 years. In El Salvador, women who abort, and sometimes even those who lose their babies through miscarriage, can be charged with homicide and serve prison sentences of over ten years.

Criminal convictions imposed for clandestine abortions increase the victimization of these women who are already in an unbearable situation. These senseless laws must be abolished immediately, as required by the United Nations, said Khadija Cherif, coordinator of the FIDH Women’s Rights Action Group.

FIDH is also concerned about increasing number of States in the United States of America adopting laws restricting access to safe and lawful abortion. FIDH remains deeply concerned about the United States’ policy on development assistance, which encourages the ban on abortion, in application of the Helms amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. This provision prohibits the allocation of funding to abortion as a tool of family planning and is interpreted in practice as preventing all funding for abortion in any circumstances.

In early November 2014, FIDH conducted a fact-finding mission on sexual and reproductive rights in Senegal. The conclusions of this investigation will be published on the eve of the 15th Summit of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie in Dakar on 29 November.

The 25th November marks the start of 16 days of activism against violence against women. FIDH will mark the close of this period on 10th December, International Human Rights Day with regional seminar in Tunis on best practices on combating violence against women. This action will take place in the context of the preparation by the Tunisian authorities of framework legislation on violence against woman, a project which represents a first in the region.

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