Access to Abortions is a Reproductive and a Human Right

08 December, 2020

Access to Abortions is a Reproductive and a Human Right

We all deserve comprehensive Sexual Reproductive Healthcare, including access to abortions and post-abortion care. Not only is overall care a reproductive right, but it is also a fundamental right.

By Kylie Kiunguyu

Rights and freedoms are inseparable

Rights and freedoms are interlinked; you cannot give a woman access to partial reproductive healthcare if she is to take complete advantage of the social, educational, political, and economic opportunities around her.

Let’s take Carol*, a teen secondary school student from an average low-income household. In her all-girls’ boarding school, sex education is limited to lectures on abstinence both in class and in church. Her mother has never spoken to her about sex except to caution her against ‘playing with boys’. And what she knows from her friends is that you should never let boys ‘spill when they touch you’ which left her confused as to what was being spilled and if this meant all types of touch.

Carol doesn’t know how to cope with the boys she encounters at school outings. So, when one of them corners her and pushes her into having sex she doesn’t know what to do. It takes her a while to realize that her period hasn’t come for 2 months but when she visits the nurse’s office; she is immediately sent home-indefinitely. Her mother gets her some very bitter medicine to take, but her belly keeps growing. When she goes to the clinic for support, the nurses treat her badly and people stare at her bump and whisper, which results in her not going back. She asks around and is referred to someone that has ‘helped’ other girls, but the procedure makes her bleed excessively and she finds out later on that she cannot have children.

Through her entire ordeal, Carol is denied the tools and abortion information she needs to make responsible choices. Without proper sexual education, she is unaware of the mechanics of sex, and unarmed to deal with a forced encounter, and does not know the contraception methods open to her in such situations either.

Then when she is sent away from school, her education is not only interrupted but in many African countries, re-entry after pregnancy is rarely viable. The negligence from all the health care providers she encountered left her vulnerable and without safer avenues of managing her unintended pregnancy- which robbed her of her future reproductive rights.

Carol’s story is not unique, and there are many variations of it. Many girls in similar predicaments earn less because of their educational limitations, and the economic drawbacks make it difficult for them to fully participate in the social, cultural, and political aspects of society. Whereas had they had access to timely and safe abortions, their potential would remain intact and uncompromised.

Limiting abortion goes against fundamental human rights

When abortion services are limited, women and girls resort to unsafe abortions in order to tackle unintended pregnancies. Over 97% of unsafe abortions take place in low and middle-income countries and this frequency is because of restrictive abortion laws, poor quality of health services or access to health professionals, and low community awareness.[1]

Although there are many reasons why abortion is necessary including but not limited to lack of contraception access and contraceptive failure, simply having the choice to terminate a pregnancy regardless of the reason is enough of a justification[2].

Whatever a woman’s reasons are, abortion services are an important part of maintaining the autonomy she should be allowed to exercise over her body and reproductive health. When this autonomy is compromised it results in unsafe abortions which are so damaging that as early as 1967, the World Health Assembly identified them as a serious public health problem in many countries and included its elimination as a Millennium Development Goal. Eliminating unsafe abortions is also one of the key parts of the WHO global reproductive health strategy. [3]

These treaties and declarations call for governments to protect, respect, and fulfill reproductive rights as human rights. And all these treaties and declarations acknowledge that the barriers to safe abortions and post-abortion care go against a woman’s fundamental human rights and, global goals and agendas.

Reproductive rights are human rights

Reproductive rights recognize that every individual should be able to freely decide the number, spacing, and timing of their offspring. The voice that every person should have all the information they need to make these decisions and access to the best possible sexual and reproductive healthcare available.

For sexual and reproductive health services to be inclusive and complete, they should be based on choice, equality, and freedom. Freedom from discrimination, pressure, violence, and bias. “Poor Sexual Reproductive Health accounts for about one-third of the global burden of illness and premature death among women of reproductive age.” According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)[4]

So, what are the fundamental things to look for when seeking these services? For starters, health care providers should know how to educate and let women know about all the options available and also what things women can do on their end. If you think about the limited information provided in schools about sex and human sexuality, then the gap is clear and needs to be filled.

In addition, a good healthcare provider should make it easy for women to access services and products. For adolescent girls specifically the lack of proper sex education and the social barriers that keep them from contraception and guided information leave them vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV and hepatitis, early pregnancy, and unsafe abortions. [5]

Finally, the services should cover all your needs. As we have seen, while contraception is important throughout one’s reproductive life, good sexual reproductive healthcare also caters to safe abortion and its aftercare.

Do you have an abortion story you would like to share anonymously? Visit our testimonials page at safe2choose.org and join a community of women normalizing the conversation around abortions.

[1] United Nations, Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights A Handbook For National Human Rights Institutions (2014) https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/nhrihandbook.pdf

[2] Sarah E.K. Bradley  Chelsea B. Polis  Akinrinola Bankole  Trevor Croft, Global Contraceptive Failure Rates: Who Is Most at Risk? (2019) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/sifp.12085

[3] Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems. 2nd edition, 1.2. Public health and human rights https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK138200/

[4] Ina K. Warriner and Iqbal H. Shah, Reproductive Rights and Sexual and Reproductive Health Framework United Nations Population Fund (May 2008) https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/0939253763.pdf

[5] Guttmacher Institute, Sexuality Education in Kenya: New Evidence from Three Counties. (2017) https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/sexuality-education-kenya