Women resist and fight for their right to abortion

Press release
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On the International Day of Action for Access to Legal and Safe Abortion, the FIDH and the Corporación Humanas publish an article about the fight by women for their legitimate right to abortion amidst constant threats from conservative movements and retrograde laws.

There are, worldwide, 26 states that are still banning abortion completely and which consider the act of abortion as an offence subject to sentences of imprisonment. And, in more than one out of every ten countries in the world, no legal defense is admitted, not even where they are trying to save the life of the woman.

In general, 124 countries worldwide maintain retrograde laws that go from the introduction of restrictions hindering the autonomy and freedom of choice of women to completely prohibiting these.

It is not surprising that the countries with more backward legislation are also those where women suffer all types of deprivation of their rights and of discrimination and violence. The 10 countries in the world where it is most difficult to be a woman have, without exception, draconian abortion laws.

There are also countries where legal and safe abortion is less accessible and the general situation in terms of fundamental rights and freedoms is catastrophic, corruption is endemic and the Rule of Law is on the decline: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, El Salvador, Honduras, for example. There are just as many States with authoritarian governments that prohibit or severely restrict recourse to abortion, particularly under the pressure of a fundamentalist religion becoming increasingly problematic in the world.

In addition, the right to abortion is again under attack and threat in many countries. In fact, the anti-abortion speeches of certain leaders have given arguments to conservative movements and have occurred alongside the regressions that have occurred in Russia, Poland and the United States, amongst others. Certain measures against free choice have continued or returned, surprisingly. Thus, Donald Trump reinstated the “Global Gag Rule” in 2017, the decree that prohibits the funding of international organizations that offer legal and safe abortion services. Also in the United States, Iowa State is trying at the present time to pass a law, the law called “Heartbeat Law”, which would make abortions practically impossible.

However, things are moving on and, in legal terms, the world trend of recent years is positive. Between 2000 and 2018, 29 countries changed their abortion law and all of them, apart from one, passed more progressive national laws. Some removed all restrictions and legalized abortion. Others extended the legal base that permits intervention including new criteria (risk for women’s health, socio-economic reasons). Only Nicaragua took a step backwards in 2006 by prohibiting therapeutic abortion.

Similarly, in the light of the new reactionary trends, thousands of women determined to achieve recognition and protection of their fundamental right to abortion have risen up and will continue to rise up. In fact, in South America, the mobilization of women has meant that, in Argentina this year, the National Congress was on the point of sanctioning legal abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Although the Senate ultimately rejected the reform (63% of the votes against were placed by men), the need for total legalization of abortion has been imbedded socially. The movement was also a trampoline for other countries to establish significant social and legislative debates on the decriminalization of abortion, as in Peru and Bolivia. In Chile, women managed to get an abortion law based on grounds approved in 2017 after 20 years of total prohibition (ES). In the same way, in previous years, the legalization of abortion was achieved in Uruguay, in 2012, and in Mexico City FD in 2007.

It is clear that women themselves will not cease in their struggle and their denunciation of the serious consequences that restrictive laws have for them (and for the whole of society) and which deepen social and gender inequalities. As women mobilize en masse and demand legislative reforms aimed at protecting the rights of half of the population, decision-makers will be challenged to respond to these civic claims. But this also requires greater involvement in this struggle by citizens overall, including women and men, and the strengthening of democratic institutions and the Rule of Law.

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