Advocacy statements

Countries must respect the right to safe abortion for all

  • Date / 2021
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 8: Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

International Humanist and Ethical Union

48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (13 September 2021 to 08 October 2021)

General Debate Item 8

In the Vienna Declaration States explicitly agreed to prioritize the realization of women’s human rights, including the right to health care and the widest range of family planning services.[1]

28 years later and these rights are routinely violated, including through the denial, criminalization and stigmatization of access to safe and legal abortion.

Indeed, just over a month ago, the state of Texas in the USA introduced a law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy despite a constitutional right to the procedure.  Earlier in the year, we saw Poland introduce a near-total ban on abortion. Total bans on abortion also exist elsewhere, including in Malta, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. A further 52 countries have conscience clauses,[2] the unregulated use of which results in discrimination and denial of abortion services.[3]

Last Tuesday marked International Safe Abortion Day. Access to safe abortion is a human right. Clearly, it is not one that is being globally realized.

We call on states to fulfil their duty to respect this right with urgency. Including by: eliminating all barriers to the provision of abortion services that lead women to resort to unsafe abortions; removing all legal provisions, including criminal laws, which penalize women who have undergone abortion or medical practitioners who offer these services; and regulating conscience clauses to guarantee that they never restrict access to abortion and reproductive health care.[4]

Anything less equates a clear betrayal of the commitments made in Vienna, and constitutes a systemic violation of the right to dignity, health, non-discrimination, freedom from inhumane-treatment and bodily autonomy.



[1] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, para 41, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/vienna.aspx

[2] https://abortion-policies.srhr.org/?mapq=q29c

[3] https://fot.humanists.international/countries/europe-southern-europe/croatia/

[4] General comment No. 22 (2016) on the right to sexual and reproductive health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights); Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 28; Report to the Human Rights Council of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, 2008, A/HRC/7/11, para. 55.


Suggested academic reference

'Countries must respect the right to safe abortion for all', Humanists International

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