Today, December 10th, is Human Rights Day. It commemorates the day on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The first article of this important document stated that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, but almost 70 years later, women are still fighting for that recognition.
safe2choose works diligently to provide access to safe abortion globally, because we know that when a woman is denied the right to make decisions about her own life, a wide range of fundamental rights, protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements, are threatened and violated.
Lack of access to safe abortion care hurts women all over the world, endangering their right to life and health. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year, 47,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions, and 8 million others suffer various kinds of complications. Laws that restrict or prohibit abortion have not stopped women from aborting; they have only forced women to gamble their lives in the hands of unqualified people using non-scientific methods, or have left women to resort to unsafe practices at home.
Health is defined by WHO as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” When a pregnancy is unwanted, its continuation can become a burden to a woman’s physical and emotional welfare. A pregnancy is a life-changing event. It affects the body, mind, and life of the pregnant person. It is only the woman experiencing the pregnancy who can and should make the decision whether or not to continue with it. In order to ensure that women can attain the highest standard of physical and mental health, access to safe abortion is necessary.
Since forcing a woman to sustain an unwanted pregnancy is contrary to her will, health, and overall prosperity, denying access to abortion services constitutes a violation of women’s right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Ignoring a woman’s wishes for her own body and life, and preventing her from acting in accordance with them, is dehumanizing. Legal requirements to continue a pregnancy leave a woman with only two options – undergoing a process she does not want and compromising her emotional and physical health, or putting herself at risk by opting for an unsafe, dangerous procedure.
An unwanted pregnancy forced to culminate in childbirth constitutes an intrusion into a women’s body, as well as a violation of her body integrity and her rights to security of person, liberty, and privacy. In countries where abortion is criminalized, seeking health care can put a woman in prison, punished for something that is a personal and private health matter It is, indeed, a private matter and a human right to decide on our sexuality and whether or not we want to have children. Interfering in such a personal decision, or threatening women with legal prosecution, is a denial of their human rights.
Finally, women who cannot access safe abortions are unable to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. As humans, women are entitled to benefit from the full range of available medical technologies to achieve the best state of health. This right is particularly important where the procedure is illegal, because availability of medical abortion can improve women’s access to safe treatments, and reduce the incidence of unsafe abortions, their health consequences, and overall mortality rates.
It is clear that restrictive abortion laws hurt women and contribute to gender-based violence and discrimination. These laws have the purpose and effect of impairing and nullifying women’s recognition as human and the enjoyment and exercising of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Barriers to safe abortion violate our right to non-discrimination and equality. If we are all equal and holders of the same rights, denying access to a health care procedure such as abortion is a form of discrimination against women, because only people with a uterus need it.
Young, rural and low-income women are the most vulnerable when they cannot exercise the right to abortion, and are at higher risk of suffering the health consequences of unsafe abortions. By ignoring this, governments and society are perpetuating and accentuating inequality, and social and economic injustice. It is imperative that all women are recognized as full human beings, entitled to all human rights, because they are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. Denying the exercise of this one reproductive and sexual right, is denying other human rights as well. If we acknowledge that women’s rights are human rights, we can no longer undermine their right to abortion, because we will be stepping on their very humanity.
safe2choose knows that women are good decision-makers. We trust in their capacity to decide regarding their bodies, their health, and their lives, and even if their local legislators do not, we will be here to support their right to safe abortion.
By Bárbara Hernández, a feminist activist, passionate about women’s rights and mental health awareness. As safe2choose’s counsellor, Barbara helps women all over the world access information on safe abortion globally.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1, 6 December 2015, http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html
 Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948, 6 December 2015, http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html
 Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women, (CEDAW), Article 1, 6 December 2015, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm#article5,