This article was first published on Aug 5, 2013 under the topic “Law and Abortion”. Now we are republishing it for the theme “Access”
Sexual and Reproductive rights and health for the women of Asia sometimes appears to be a distant vision. The ICPD, the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Declaration notwithstanding, maternal mortality continues to be high in many parts of Asia and patriarchal society structures reinforce women’s lack of autonomy and decision making capacities thus putting their lives at risk on a daily basis through deprivation, physical and sexual violence, rape, unsafe abortions, and others. Unsafe abortions still contribute to 13-50 % of the maternal mortality in some of these countries.
A number of studies, particularly in the recent past have looked at the issue of safe abortion services, their reach and the perspective of both users and service providers. Therefore, ASAP planned a multi-country study that went beyond the community- provider interface and explored the views of gatekeepers such as lawmakers and implementers who are outside the service provision field. A survey of legal professionals and law enforcement officials was planned with a view to assess their level of understanding and support for safe abortion as a women’s right and public health issue in countries where abortion laws are restrictive and where it is legal.
In order to make significant changes in improving access to safe abortion reforming national laws and policies (especially in restrictive environment); setting forth more effective principles and guidelines for public information and service delivery (in countries with more liberal policies); and other changes may be critical. When it comes to examining the law as it is and the law as it should be, it is therefore important and necessary to look at the role of the legal profession as agents of change.
The legal profession, in its first sense, means not only the private practitioners, but also the judges, magistrates, law students, and law professors (academe). Lawyers after all, make use of the law to defend or prosecute women or abortion service providers who are held to account under the law; the academe’s opinions are consulted by the judges and magistrates who in turn, interpret the provisions of the law and decide the fate of the woman/service provider accordingly. Legal experts (whether private practitioners, members of the judiciary or the academe) are always at the forefront in legislative advocacy – drafting of bills, as well as providing legal expertise and support for the sponsors of proposed legislative measures, to ensure that the proposed measure measures up to the agreed-upon standards, i.e., the Constitution and in many cases, the state’s international commitments.
Legal profession, when used in this study, however, does not simply refer to those who have had formal schooling in law and are bestowed the titles as such. This study adopts an expanded definition of the legal profession and includes also legislators, high ranking police personnel, jailers, medical practitioners, head of hospitals, and other persons who are tasked with the implementation of the law, as well as those whose opinion and experience may be given weight in legal and policy advocacy.
Starting tomorrow, we will highlight the main findings of this multi-country study. In the meantime, you can find the full length papers using the links below.
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