The right to access adequate contraception, including abortion

February 13, 2017

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In light of the recently reinstated Mexico City Policy, which prohibits non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. funds from providing or promoting abortions overseas, IFHHRO would like to recall that the recent General Comment 22 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2016) calls upon States “to liberalize restrictive abortion laws; to guarantee women and girls access to safe abortion services and quality post-abortion care; and to respect the right of women to make autonomous decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.” 


The Global Gag Rule

The Mexico City Policy, also referred to as the Global Gag Rule by various human rights organizations,  is a memorandum that was first issued by President Reagan in 1984 at the United Nations population conference, held in Mexico City. It has been reinstituted by every new Republican president via executive order, and in turn, cancelled by Democrat presidents. In the first week of his Presidency, as expected, Donald Trump restored the policy through an executive order.

Organizations in the U.S. or abroad that provide abortion education or services will be excluded from receiving money, even if they are carrying out these activities with their own funds, raised from other sources. This will affect many local, national and international organizations, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The policy also bans these organizations from advocating for the passage of pro-abortion laws in other countries.

The Right to Life and abortion

General Comment No. 22 (2016) on the right to sexual and reproductive health stresses that this right is an integral part of the right to health enshrined in article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This important document states that men and women have a right to information on abortion-related issues, and that medicines for abortion and post-abortion care are essential medicines: “… essential medicines should be available, including a wide range of contraceptive methods, such as condoms and emergency contraception, medicines for abortion and for post-abortion care …”

Also the draft General Comment 36 of the Human Rights Commission on Article 6 (Right to Life) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is encouragingly explicit in removing some barriers in access to adequate contraception and decriminalization of abortion:

“… States parties may choose to adopt measures designed to protect the life, potential for human life or dignity of unborn children, …  provided that such recognition does not result in violation of other rights under the Covenant, including the right to life of pregnant mothers and the prohibition against exposing them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Thus, any legal restrictions on the ability of women to seek abortion must not jeopardize their lives or subject them to severe physical or mental pain or suffering. States parties whose laws generally prohibit voluntary terminations of pregnancy must, nonetheless, maintain legal exceptions for therapeutic abortions necessary for protecting the life of mothers, inter alia by not exposing them to serious health risks, and for situations in which carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the mother severe mental anguish, such as cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or when the fetus suffers from fatal abnormalities.

Furthermore, States parties should not regulate pregnancy or abortion in a manner that would compel women to seek clandestine illegal abortions that could endanger their lives. For example, they should not criminalize pregnancies by unmarried women or apply criminal sanctions against women undergoing abortion or against physicians assisting them in doing so.”

Global fundraising

At the end of January, Minister Lilianne Ploumen of The Netherlands (foreign trade and development cooperation) launched ‘She Decides’, a new global fundraising initiative for family planning programmes, including those that offer abortion education and care. The Dutch government has already pledged € 10 million to this fund and seventeen countries have endorsed Ploumens initiative. On March 2nd, a kick-off conference for raising the money will take place in Brussels, Belgium.

Blog on General Comment No. 22, Global Health Law Groningen, 15 March 2016