Women's access to a safe and legal abortion is restricted in many countries throughout the world. Nearly half of the world's abortions are illegal, and 98% of illegal abortions occur in developing countries. Abortion is an important human rights issue, and countries that prohibit safe abortions on health or moral grounds should realize the impact of their actions on women. 

Why is abortion a human rights issue?

Right to Life: According to Human Rights Watch, 13% of maternal deaths are because of unsafe abortions. Restrictive abortion violates the right to life, as these deaths are highly preventable. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women have called for an end to unsafe abortion practices and have expressed concern for restrictive abortion laws and threats to the lives of women. While these documents remain vague about what constitutes the "beginning of life," most international treaties and legislation spell out the right to human rights begins at birth, not conception. The 13% of maternal deaths that occur due to unsafe abortion practices are highly preventable, and if legislation was changed in restrictive countries, thousands of lives would be saved.

Right to Health and Health Care: In countries where there is a lack of proper reproductive services and access to contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies are inevitable. Illegal abortion clinics have no interest in protecting the health and safety of women, and many preventable deaths are occurring as a result.

Right to Humane Treatment: The UN Human Rights Committee has agreed that that restricting access to safe and legal abortions can lead to the violation of the right to humane treatment, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 5. According to Human Rights Watch, restrictions on abortions an lead to poor post abortion treatment. Many women lose their lives in the aftermath of abortion due to unsuitable care. Many women seek abortions illegally in countries where abortion is refused, thus leading them to not receive proper treatment. This is a violation of the right to humane treatment (article 5 of UDHR). 

What are the consequences of illegal abortions?

Abortion as a criminal act leads women to seek unsafe abortion methods elsewhere. Not only are these methods unsafe, but they cause serious harm to the mother. According to Human Rights Watch, illegal abortions cause harm in three main ways. 1.) unsafe abortion methods; 2.) lack of medical accountability; 3.) discouraging post-abortion care.

In countries where abortion is prohibited, women are often driven to seek desperate measures as an alternative. Many women resort to unsafe "self-abortions" in which they attempt to perform the abortion themselves, usually through the insertion of a foreign object into the uterus. This practice clearly has severe health risks for the woman. This practice carries the strong risk of infection, and hemorrhaging. As found in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, this practice can also lead to a rapid or slowed death. Unsafe ingestion of abortive pills without doctor consultation also have highly armful effects. 

What is iwi's stance on abortion?

At International Women's Initiative, we believe that abortion should be at the discretion of the individual pregnant woman with no interference from the state or any other governing body. Governments are ignoring basic human rights of women, and have a legal obligation to protect their citizens from harm, however, many are falling short.

Denying women the access to a safe abortion is a severe violation of all of the human rights listed above, as well as several others. Preventable deaths and injury could be ended if governments valued human rights over perceived morality. 

At IWI, we believe that governments should take action to prevent illegal and unsafe abortions from occurring by providing safe options for women to receive treatment, pre-abortion, during abortion, and post-abortion.