Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Protecting Reproductive Rights

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Protecting Reproductive Rights

Article excerpt

The protection of sexual and reproductive rights is a key priority for Amnesty International. The reason is simple: the gravity of the human rights violations that occur when sexual and reproductive rights are abused.

Access to contraceptive information and services for all helps not only to reduce unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, but it also reduces the demand for abortion. Access to such services, though, is not enough for pregnant girls and women who are confronting risks to their health or life, or for those who find themselves pregnant after a rape. For these women and girls, having the option of accessing safe and legal abortion services is life and health preserving.

The criminalization of abortion leaves women and girls at risk of losing their lives or suffering permanent damage to their health. This is true for those who have suffered a miscarriage and don't seek medical treatment for fear of being accused of having provoked an abortion; for women and girls who now see no option but to seek an illegal "back street" abortion; and for pregnant victims of rape.

The profound harm caused by rape and sexual violence can never be entirely redressed. The mental and physical scars of such an act are deep and pervasive. When a woman or girl is raped, the state makes a crucial choice.

The state can choose to adhere to its international human rights obligations to provide the victim of rape with a remedy to the harm caused to her. This means it will stand alongside her and help her to recover her dignity, health, hopes, and dreams. For victims who want to continue with a pregnancy resulting from rape, the state provides the support necessary for her to cope with the economic and social costs of doing so. For other rape victims, the idea of continuing with a pregnancy may be unbearable or may pose a danger to her life or health, particularly if she is very young. In these cases, the state that chooses to stand alongside the rape victim ensures she has the option of safe, accessible, and legal abortion services.

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The state that chooses to support a victim of rape respects her choice and enables her to manage the consequences of rape safely and with dignity. In essence, it does its best to ensure that the horror she experienced does not become the event that defines the rest of her life.

Alternatively, the state can choose to use criminal law to threaten and punish women and girls with lengthy prison sentences if they do not continue a pregnancy that is the product of rape. This action places the state in breach of its international human rights obligations. The state chooses, in tiffs case, to impose on these women and girls a future as devoid of choice and dignity as the moment when they were raped. Her voice is extinguished; her wishes are not taken into account. The UN Committee against Torture clearly stated in 2009 that the consequences of criminal laws that compel a victim of rape to continue with a pregnancy against her will are cruel, inhuman, and degrading.

In 2006, Nicaragua introduced provisions to enforce a complete ban on abortion. The law came into effect in July 2008 and provides for criminal sanctions against girls and women who seek an abortion, and doctors who provide it, even when their health and lives are at risk or when they have been raped. …

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