PRESS STATEMENT: The UN Human Rights Committee’s Instruction on Safe, Legal and Effective Access to Abortion

 

 

SAfAIDS expresses its full support and solidarity with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 36 of 2018 on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), on the Right to Life. The General Comment expands the understanding of the right to life in the submission that the right includes entitlements of individuals to live and enjoy a life of dignity.  In its entirety, the right to life constitutes a fundamental right whose effective protection is the medium through which all other human rights are exercised and enjoyed.

In that regard, the General Comment further explores, and focuses on how restrictions on safe and legal abortion, endanger the lives of women, and indeed their dignity through subjecting them to physical and mental pain and suffering. State parties are therefore mandated to provide for an environment for safe, legal, affordable and effective access to abortion if the health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk, and if carrying the pregnancy to full term would cause extensive pain and suffering as in cases of rape and incest.

The General Comment makes a landmark addition to the provisions for abortion, and concludes that State parties still have to provide for safe, legal and effective abortion services even in cases where the pregnancy is ‘not viable. Non-viability exists for example, when the continuation of the pregnancy to full term contributes to substantial pain and suffering of the woman or girl because of the socio-economic pressures associated with the pregnancy.

State parties are therefore further instructed to remove all barriers to access safe and legal abortion, including revision of abortion laws, and not act in manners that put up women and girls to consider undertaking unsafe abortions. The reality is unsafe abortions bring with them, and subject women and girls to unbearable stigma and degrading mental, physical, and emotional risks and consequences.  The way forward is not for punitive action and laws, but for States and like-minded stakeholders to ensure and strengthen access for women, and girls and especially men and boys to quality and evidence-based information and education, and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services and products.

SAfAIDS as a regional centre of excellence that promotes effective and ethical development responses to SRHR, HIV and TB and other developmental issues, urges law and policy makers and other stakeholders across the SADC region to rethink and transform their approach to the realities and implications of unsafe abortions. The intersectionality of unsafe abortions for example with unprotected sex, HIV, adolescent unintended pregnancies, child and forced marriages, child and maternal mortality cannot be ignored. Within these experiences exists serious human rights violations that are a dent and a back-step on realising just and inclusive societies, good health and well-being, as well as gender equality.   

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