Advocacy statements

Human rights violations arising from criminalization of abortion

  • Date / 2018
  • Location / El Salvador
  • 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

UN Human Rights Council, 38th Session (18th June – 6th July 2018)

General Debate on Item 8

Just over a month ago the Irish people voted to liberalise abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland. This was a long overdue decision and to be celebrated. However, the implementation and respect for human rights should not to be subject to democratic consensus or popular opinion.

The criminalization of abortion and failure to ensure access to quality abortion services is a human rights issue. It violates: the right to non-discrimination and equality; the right to privacy; the right to make decisions about one’s own body. It can also constitute a violation of the right to be free from torture or inhumane and degrading treatment. This has been highlighted by UN bodies and experts repeatedly.[1]

Through the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States explicitly agreed to prioritize the human rights of women, including the eradication of gender-based discrimination and violence.

Yet, roughly 42% of women of reproductive age continue to live in countries where abortion is either prohibited altogether or allowed only to save a woman’s life or protect her health[2].

We urge the Human Rights Council to address the human rights violations arising from criminalization of abortion and the denial of access to safe and legal abortion services through its resolutions, decisions, debates, and its UPR.

We dedicate this statement to the memory of Savita Halappanavar, whose death it took to force the Irish state to re-assess its cruel anti-abortions laws,[3] to the 14-year old rape victim who died during childbirth in Paraguay[4], and to El Salvadoran citizen, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, who had ten years of freedom taken from her by the state after suffering a still birth, but who now at last has her freedom again.[5]


[1] Center for Reproductive Rights, Breaking Ground, Treaty Monitoring Bodies on Reproductive Rights, 2016, available at https://www.reproductiverights.org/document/breaking-ground-2016-treaty-monitoring-bodies-on-reproductive-rights

[2] https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-worldwide-2017

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/27/world/europe/savita-halappanavar-ireland-abortion.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/mar/22/paraguayan-rape-victim-14-dies-giving-birth

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/15/world/americas/el-salvador-abortion-ban.html

Suggested academic reference

'Human rights violations arising from criminalization of abortion', Humanists International

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