Safe Abortion Is A Human Right

Today, December 10 is International Human Rights day, and a great time to remember that women’s access to reproductive health is incomplete without access to safe abortion services. Denying women this right to determine the outcome of their pregnancies and thereby control their own future is a breach of human rights.

Which rights are violated? The Center For Reproductive Health put together a very comprehensive document on this.

1. Right To Life:

imageEvery year 47,000 women die from the complications of unsafe abortion. All these women are unable to access safe abortion either because of restrictive laws, poor access to affordable services or because of stigma. One case that shook the world was that of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian immigrant living in Ireland. Savita’s tragic death allowed Irish women to demand for justice for all women in the country, but the government is yet to pass a liberal law that will protect the rights of all women to access safe abortion in the country.

Ireland is only one of the countries where these rights are breached. Over 25% of the world’s women live in areas with severe restrictions on the abortion law.

2. Right to Health:

Abortions can prevent physical and mental harm that can be caused by pregnancy. Forcing a woman to continue her pregnancy can compromise the quality of her life. Here’s an excellent video also by CRR on a woman who fought back and brought change.

3. Women’s Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination:

Though men and women are equally responsible for a pregnancy, it is women that are forced to bear the burden of unsafe abortions. Therefore, denying women access to abortion is also a breach of her right to gender equality.

4. Women’s Right to Reproductive Self-Determination:

Across the world, abortion laws even liberal ones, may not recognize abortion as a woman’s right. In India, for example, the law though liberal empowers the doctor, not the woman, by allowing him or her to be the person determining if the abortion should be performed. Several countries require women to get the consent of their spouse or of a guardian. Other countries, including states in the U.S., have made pre-abortion counseling mandatory. All these laws imply that the world at large still does not trust women to make choices for themselves. This lack of trust deprives a woman of the right to control her body and her fertility, forcing her to become a dependent.

5. Woman’s Right to be Free from Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment:

Pregnancy is not always celebrated, and women may not always find the moral and social support they need to raise children. In all such cases, women might want to have abortion, and must have the right to do so. Denying abortion can prevent women from finishing school or college, from having children they cannot support, from enduring cruel treatment for having children out of wedlock and for several other reasons. It can subject them and their family to a life of poverty. Abortion can allow them to live free of such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in their society.

6. Women’s Right to the Enjoyment of the Benefits of Scientific Progress:

The Updated WHO Safe Abortion Guidance provides technical and policy updates that all governments must follow. Failing to update medical services can prove deleterious for women’s health.

Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights Council, published a statement in 2011 that pronounces the denial of abortion a violation of human rights:

 “ Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realization of women’s right to health and must be eliminated. These laws infringe women’s dignity and autonomy by severely restricting decision-making by women in respect of their sexual and reproductive health.”

Read the entire document here:

imageTo fight for these rights and to ensure that women are able to access safe, legal and affordable abortion across the world, organization and individuals have come together under the umbrella of the International Campaign For Women’s Rights To Safe Abortion.

The Asia Safe Abortion Partnership is  a co-founder of the campaign. You can read more about it here on our page:

To sign up for the campaign take this survey that will take a maximum of two minutes:

You can see who has endorsed the campaign in the interactive map here:


About Shweta Krishnan

Shweta Krishnan was the Communication and Networking Officer For the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership between June 2012 and March 2014. She is a feminist writer with a background in medicine, and has a strong commitment to promoting sexual and reproductive rights for all.
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