Abortion Law and Policy News:
Namibia, Croatia, Malawi, Canada, UK, UN Special Rapporteur
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11 April 2017
Health Minister highlights magnitude of unsafe abortions;
Namibian editorial supports legalisation
'500 women die from abortion every year.' Perhaps such should be the news headlines to make Namibians understand we have a crisis, and all because of a lack of empathy.
The Namibian reported that Health Minister Bernard Haufiku tried to highlight the magnitude of the problem of unsafe abortion when he announced that more than 7,300 women had been treated at public health centres in 2016 due to complications of illegal abortions. In fact, he said the figure could be as high as 10,000 – or at least 27 cases a day.
He called for decriminalisation of abortion, which is restricted under the Abortion and Sterilization Act of South Africa (1975), which Namibia inherited at independence in March 1990. According to the UN Population Division website (2002), abortion is allowed in Namibia only when the continued pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or constitutes a serious threat to her physical health or a risk of permanent damage to her mental health; when there exists a serious risk of a physical or mental defect in the child so as to be irreparably seriously handicapped; as a consequence of rape or incest; or when the fetus has been conceived in consequence of illegitimate carnal intercourse and the woman is, owing to a permanent mental handicap or defect, unable to comprehend the implications of or bear the parental responsibility for the “fruit of coitus”.
Minister Haufiku warned that the criminalisation of abortion only makes the crisis worse since the poor suffer most, while the rich can pay professionals to avoid complications, or go to South Africa where abortion is legal. The editorial said: "We support Haufiku that arrests in abortion cases (including baby-dumping and “neglect”) must stop immediately, as those responsible are not a danger to society. In fact, Haufiku and his cabinet colleagues must immediately start the process to legalise abortion and offer counselling. Abortion is not the killer, lack of empathy and care is."...
Quality: more important than the birth rate / A woman is a person, not an incubator Croatian Constitutional Court reaffirms constitutionality of abortion rights
The Constitutional Court of Croatia reaffirmed the constitutionality of access to abortion on 2 March 2017. The decision rejects claims made by conservative groups and individuals that allowing women access to abortion on request was unconstitutional. In its decision, the Court reaffirmed that women’s access to abortion is protected under their constitutional rights to liberty, personality, and privacy.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Center for Education, Counselling and Research submitted amicus briefs to the Court that explain how international human rights law, comparative European law and international public health and clinical standards support women’s right to access safe and legal abortion.
Croatian legislation on abortion, adopted in 1978, allows abortion on request within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter when a pregnancy is the result of a crime, if there is a risk to a woman’s health or life, and in cases of severe fetal impairment. The Court ruled that by allowing women’s access to abortion in these circumstances, the law gives effect to women’s constitutional rights to privacy, liberty, and personality and complies with international human rights law and comparative European law. As the 1978 law predated the current Croatian Constitution, the Court requested that the Croatian Parliament adopt new legislation within two years.
"There are no laws that govern the anatomies of men…"
Human rights activists have urged the Malawian government to enact the abortion bill that was developed last year with the involvement of a Special Law Commission, which included representatives from all the main religious bodies, as well as representatives from the Ministries of Health and Justice, the judiciary, the Law Society, and the University of Malawi, NGOs and others.
The arguments that advocates have just put forward in a meeting for taking the draft law forward, which are outlined in an article published by the Malawian Centre for Solutions Journalism, are hard to beat:
> The government has made commitments in the Constitution and international treaties to ensure women enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights. Abortion is a class issue, in which discrimination exists against poor women. Emma Kaliya, human rights activist.
> There were 141,000 abortions in Malawi in 2015, according to research just published by the Guttmacher Institute and the Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Malawi's School of Medicine. 60% led to complications that required treatment in a health facility. Treating complications (which would not exist with safe abortion) constitutes an important financial burden on the health system.
> Why are men who do not get pregnant in the forefront of opposing abortion law reform. Making laws that govern the wombs of women when there are no laws that govern the anatomies of men is a human rights violation. Brian Ligomeka, Centre for Solutions Journalism.
> One in every 29 girls aged 15 is dying unnecessarily of a pregnancy-related condition while moralists and religious fanatics are busy debating the issue.
> When a girl or woman makes up her mind to terminate a pregnancy, nothing – not even the law or religious teachings – can stop her. Chembezi Mhone, reproductive health journalist.
Abortion pill available in less than half of all Canadian provinces three months after rollout
Mifegymiso, the medical abortion pill packet, has been available in Canada since late January 2017. However, three months after the pills became available, only five provinces and one territory have requested it, according to its manufacturer: Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon.
Medical experts and advocates had hoped the abortion pill would help close the urban-rural divide in access to abortion services in Canada. But according to an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the biggest barrier is that Health Canada only allows specially trained physicians to dispense the drug. This means a doctor has to stock Mifegymiso or send patients to a pharmacist who can courier it back to the doctor for hand off. Health Canada also requires that the physician “supervise” administration of the drug, but leaves it to them to decide if the patient has to ingest it in their presence.
Dr. Wendy Norman, a family planning expert at the University of British Columbia, argues the restrictions are more politically motivated than scientifically grounded. She has studied the rural-urban gap in access to reproductive services and says that pharmacists are the best-trained and equipped to provide the medication.
The training course is simple and straightforward. But even requiring doctors and pharmacists to undergo extra training to provide the drug “limits the pool,” Emberley says. Added to that is the fact that the manufacturer Celopharma also began asking physicians who completed the training to get their patients to bring a signed consent form with them to the pharmacist, to prove that their doctor was licensed to prescribe Mifegymiso. And the upper time limit allowing use is only 7 weeks of pregnancy. And to add insult to injury, the pills cost CAN$ 300, which health professionals think many women won't be able to afford anyway so why get training to provide them.
Decriminalisation of abortion: a discussion paper from the BMA
"The British Medical Association currently does not have policy on the decriminalisation of abortion, and this paper does not include recommendations about whether, and if so how, abortion should be decriminalised. Instead, a number of arguments, put forward by others, in favour of and against decriminalisation are set out in part two of the paper. These invite the question – what role, if any, should the criminal law play in setting parameters for the provision and administration of abortion? Would some form of decriminalisation be better than the current legislative framework?
> The current law around abortion is set out in detail in part one of the paper. In summary, induced abortion is a crime throughout the British Isles. There are, however, a range of exceptions to the crime laid out in statute and/or common law.
> Abortion is governed by core statute and common law but is also subject to further specific regulation and professional and clinical standards. In addition, the professional standards, regulation, criminal and civil law that apply to other aspects of clinical care also apply to abortion – for example, the law relating to informed consent and the professional standards set by the GMC (General Medical Council) to support patients and treat them as individuals, respecting their dignity and privacy.
> There have been several criminal prosecutions in recent years relating to abortion. In addition, there have been a number of cases where women have purposefully exposed themselves to the risk of prosecution, or where individuals have deliberately, and unsuccessfully, sought prosecutions of doctors who authorise or carry out abortions.
Cultural rights threatened by global avalanche of hate, says Special Rapporteur
The UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva: “We face a global avalanche of hate in the form of rising fundamentalism and extremism around the world. This must be tackled with urgency, using a human rights approach. Culture and cultural rights are critical components of this response”.
The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned at the normalization of fundamentalist and extremist ideology and rhetoric in many political, cultural and media contexts, in diverse forms and in all regions of the world, and the increasing embrace they find in mainstream political parties and candidates.
In her report to the UN Human Rights Council, the expert highlights how diverse fundamentalist and extremist ideologies have in common a mindset based on intolerance of differences and pluralism, and all attempt to stamp out cultural diversity and dissent.
In the report, the Special Rapporteur points to cases from all regions where fundamentalist and extremist ideology has motivated abuses of cultural rights by state and non-state actors; she condemns attacks on freedom of artistic expression in Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and Iran, and on intellectuals in Bangladesh. Ms. Bennoune said diverse forms of fundamentalism and extremism, though sometimes viewed as opponents, often actually reinforce each other. “One form of fundamentalism or extremism is not a justification for another. Each is a reinforcing reminder of the global humanist crisis that lies before us. We must break out of this vicious circle that will leave youth globally facing a political landscape offering only a bleak choice of competing extremisms”.
Last week, we learned that a young woman aged 19 had been sentenced to prison for "homicide" in Rivera, in Uruguay. She had given birth in the bathroom of her house, unaware that she was even pregnant. Yet she was found guilty of manslaughter for having "aborted" the pregnancy.
In a letter to the authorities, we are demanding her immediate release and the intervention of all the State institutions involved, to ensure she is released. (MORE DETAILS)