Abortion - a matter of human rights and social justice

Today, access to abortion is considered to be an essential healthcare.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health entails “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. WHO affirms that medicines used for medical abortion are among essential medicines, which should be available in every country. On June 1st 2020, WHO advised all essential health services, including abortion care, to be safeguarded during the pandemic. WHO further recommended using telemedicine to ensure access to safe abortion in restrictive settings.

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25, 1948) states that “"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services." The right to access healthcare and safe abortion is acknowledged in miscellaneous conventions, declarations and decisions, including:

1965: The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Article 5 (e) (iv) 

1966: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Article 12.1 

1979: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Articles 11 (1) (f), 12 and 14 (2) (b) 

1989: The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 24

1990: The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; Articles 28, 43 (e) and 45 (c) 

2006: The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Article 25 in 2006

2008: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, resolution 1607 invited the member states of the Council of Europe to:

decriminalize abortion within reasonable gestational limits, if they have not already done so; guarantee women’s effective exercise of their right of access to a safe and legal abortion; allow women freedom of choice and offer the conditions for a free and enlightened choice without specifically promoting abortion; lift restrictions which hinder, de jure or de facto, access to safe abortion, and, in particular, take the necessary steps to create the appropriate conditions for health, medical and psychological care and offer suitable financial cover”

2011: Statement by Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health: 

Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realisation 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”

2013: General Comment (15) by the Committee on the Rights of the Child included in the Convention of the Rights of the Child

“The Committee recommends that States ensure access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services, irrespective of whether abortion itself is legal.”

2016: General Comment (20) by the Committee on the Rights of the Child included in the Convention of the Rights of the Child

The Committee urges States to decriminalize abortion to ensure that girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, review legislation with a view to guaranteeing the best interests of pregnant adolescents and ensure that their views are always heard and respected in abortion related decisions.”

2016: General Comment (22) by the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: 

Essential medicines should also be available, including a wide range of contraceptive methods, such as condoms and emergency contraception, medicines for abortion and for post-abortion care, and medicines, including generic medicines, for the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

2016: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health stated:

In connection to sexual and reproductive health rights, the Special Rapporteur recommends that Governments: (b) Decriminalize abortion and guarantee all adolescents access to confidential, adolescent-responsive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health information, services and goods, including on family planning, counselling, pre- conception care, maternal care, sexually transmitted infections, diagnosis and treatment, as well as modern forms of contraception, including emergency contraception, and safe abortion and post-abortion services.