Law Reform, Campaigns, Calls
************************ 22 February 2016
Proof that no country needs abortion laws
This presentation by Joyce Arthur at the IWAC Congress in Bangkok, 27 January 2016, reminds us that in 1989, following a judgement of the Supreme Court of Canada, abortion was completely removed from the jurisdiction of the law and became a health service in Canada like every other bona fide health service.
While no other country has yet followed fully in Canada’s footsteps, some are on their way, as this newsletter shows, and in line with the call for decriminalisation of abortion on 28 September each year, inter-governmental and governmental officials, parliamentarians, health professionals, human rights supporters, and a wide range of NGOs and women’s rights groups in many countries are now campaigning for partial, if not total, decriminalisation of abortion.
Droit à l'avortement : la Loi Santé met fin au délai de réflexion obligatoire (Right to abortion: the new Law on Modernisation of the Health System puts an end to the period of compulsory reflection and other restrictions on access to abortion)
La suppression du délai de réflexion obligatoire dans le cadre des demandes d'avortement est applicable dès aujourd'hui. Une revendication de longue date du Planning Familial, qui constatait sur le terrain que cette mesure ne faisait qu’ajouter aux difficultés d’accès à l’avortement, tout en maintenant les femmes dans un statut de mineures, jugées "irresponsables" ou incapables de peser leur décision. (The removal of the mandatory reflection period from the abortion regulations is applicable from 28 January - a long-standing demand of the Mouvement français pour le planning familial (MFPF) because it increased the difficulties of access to services and treated women as if they were minors, or judged incapable of making decision.)
Adoptée mi-décembre, la Loi Santéprévoit la mise-en-œuvre de plusieurs dispositions importantes relatives aux droits et à la santé des femmes. (Adopted in mid-December the new Health Law includes important provisions for the health and rights of women.)
Toujours dans l’optique de garantir l’accès à l’avortement, la loi va également permettre aux sages-femmes de pratiquer des avortements médicamenteux, pratique jusqu’ici réservée aux seuls médecins. (With a view to guaranteeing access to abortion, the law also permits midwives to offer medical abortion, which previously only doctors could do.)
Elle devrait par ailleurs améliorer l’offre de services de santé de proximité, en ouvrant la possibilité aux centres de santé de proposer à la fois des IVG médicamenteuses et instrumentales. Des textes additionnels sont attendus afin d’expliquer les modalités d’application de cette ouverture. (This should make it possible for health centres to offer both medical and aspiration abortions).
En sortant l’avortement de son régime médical et juridique spécifique, ces trois mesures en font véritablement un droit. En plus d’améliorer l’accès pratique aux services d’IVG, c’est un signal politique fort pour faire changer le regard sur cette démarche, en reconnaissant aux femmes leur capacité à décider par elles-mêmes.Des avancées qui devraient être complétées dès le mois d'avril par le remboursement intégral de l'IVG et des actes médicaux associés. (By moving the provision of abortion care away from medical and legal restrictions, these measures truly make abortion a right, recognising women’s ability to decide for themselves. By April 2016, all costs related to abortion will be refunded by the national health insurance.)
Tags: France, decriminalisation of abortion
Justice : L’avortement légalisé dans le nouveau Code pénal (Justice: abortion to be legalised in the new Penal Code)
Lors d’un atelier de restitution de l’avant-projet du Nouveau Code de procédure pénale qui devra remplacer le Code d’instruction criminelle de 1835, qui permettra à Haïti, selon les membres de la Commission présidentielle chargée de sa mise en œuvre, de se hisser au niveau des exigences et des défis incontournables qui caractérisent notre société actuelle... (At a meeting on reform of the new Code of Criminal Procedure for Haiti, which was drafted to replace the 1835 Code of Criminal Investigation, the Presidential Commission for the Reform of Justice responsible for its drafting reiterated the requirements and challenges of Haitian society today that the new Penal Code must address...)
Dans ce Nouveau code a être ratifié, l’avortement deviendrait légal en Haïti dans le souci de répondre à des préoccupations de santé publique et de liberté de la femme, selon Me Sybylle Théard Mevs, Vice-présidente de la Commission présidentielle pour la réforme de la justice... (In this new Code, if it is ratified, abortion would become legal in Haiti, in order to respond to public health concerns and the freedom of women, according to Ms Sibylle Théard Mevs, Vice-President of the Commission…)
Par ailleurs, le nouveau Code pénal prévoit de nouvelles infractions concernant entre autres : …celles sur la discrimination et la violence de genre... (In addition, the new Criminal Code provides for new offences, e.g…. gender discrimination and violence...)
Tags: Haiti, decriminalisation of abortion
Portugal’s parliament overturns July 2015 restrictions on the abortion law
On 25 January 2016, Portugal's new president vetoed the decision by Portugal’s new parliament in November 2015 to restore the 2007 abortion law without the restrictions imposed on it by the previous government. Following his veto, the reform was referred back to the parliament, who overturned his veto on 10 February with 119 votes in favour. This means that nothing changed de facto in 2015 in the provision of legal abortion services in Portugal. The anti-choice changes imposed by the previous parliament in July 2015 - mandatory counselling and payment by women seeking an abortion in the public health service - which had not yet come into effect, now will not come into effect at all.
Abortion should be decriminalised “in all circumstances” and current Irish legislation should be reviewed to ensure women have “access to safe abortion and post-abortion care,” the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended in its published observations on children’s rights in Ireland. It expressed “concern” that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, allows abortion only where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the pregnant woman’s or girl’s life. This “prevents doctors from being able to provide services in accordance with objective medical practice”. They also expressed concern about the “severe lack of access to sexual and reproductive health education and emergency contraception for adolescents”…
Minister for Children James Reilly said these and other recommendations would be “referred to Government departments and agencies for attention”.
“This week a new campaign has been launched to decriminalise abortion in the UK, called We Trust Women. It's likely to cause serious consternation. Not because we aren't pro-choice in this country - the vast majority of us are. But because most people will be horrified that abortion, a safe, well-regulated and extremely common procedure, still sits within a criminal law passed in 1861.
“In Victorian Britain women had few rights, rarely had independent means, could be morally ruined by pregnancy outside of wedlock and physically ruined by the relentless cycle of conception, pregnancy and childbirth within it. In this context it was common for women to put their lives in the hands of untrained abortionists. The carnage of dangerous backstreet abortions provided the gruesome backdrop to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA), which aimed to deter women from abortion by threatening long sentences for them and those who helped them abort. The failure of this Act to end abortion won't surprise anyone looking at the relationship between abortion law and abortion prevalence around the world today…
“It should be intolerable to us as a society that we would even consider locking up a woman for abortion. The OAPA is rarely used to prosecute women, but when it is it targets the most desperate, vulnerable and unsupported: women who feel the intense unbearableness of their unwanted pregnancy, but have somehow found themselves outside of the criteria set by the 1967 Abortion Act. This 1861 law casts its long shadow over doctors too and can inhibit them from giving women in the most need the care and support they require, and that as a society we want them to have.
“By taking abortion out of the criminal law altogether, continuing to regulate it well and ensuring straightforward access for all, it will change very little for most women… What it will do is set us firmly in the 21st Century. It will establish for once and for all that as a nation we trust women; that we are committed to timely, compassionate, professional support for all women who face a pregnancy that - for any number of reasons - they simply cannot bear; and that we wholeheartedly support and celebrate the doctors, nurses, midwives and other support staff who care for a woman when she becomes one of the one in three who has an abortion in her lifetime.”
WeTrustWomenis a national campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK. It was launched in February 2016 by Bpas.
Five reasons to decriminalise abortion: 1. It denies women fundamental rights. 2. Women can be imprisoned for causing their own miscarriage. 3. It deters doctors and compromises women’s care. 4. It is at odds with fundamental legal principles. 5. Public opinion supports women’s choice.
#WeTrustWomen ‒ the following UK organisations support the campaign:
Alliance for Choice Northern Ireland, Birthrights, British Humanist Association, British Society of Abortion Care Providers, Catholics for Choice, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion, End Violence Against Women coalition, Equality Now, Family Planning Association, Fawcett Society, International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network , Lawyers for Choice, Maternity Action, National Union of Students Women’s Campaign, Rise, Royal College of Midwives, Southall Black Sisters, Voice For Choice coalition, Women’s Aid, Women’s Equality Party
Tags: United Kingdom, decriminalisation of abortion
“In Thailand, abortion has been legal since the 1950s. The law states that a doctor may perform an abortion if it is necessary to protect a woman's health, when the woman is a survivor of rape, or if she is under the age of 15. The most recent regulations regarding laws on abortion were adopted in 2005. These explicitly state that a woman may seek an abortion for protection of either physical or mental health; however, in the latter case two doctors must agree that the procedure is necessary.
"Although these laws have been in effect for decades, women in Thailand continue to die from complications of unsafe abortions at a rate mirroring countries where abortion is heavily restricted. In 2011, the Ministry of Health estimated Thailand's abortion mortality rate to be more than 130 times higher than the rate in the USA. As obstetrician-gynaecologists dedicated to improving women’s health, we find these numbers shocking.
"Doctors and nurses who provide reproductive health care to women in Thailand have access to the medications and medical equipment they need to provide safe abortions. Many have the knowledge and skills required to provide both medical and surgical options. Most importantly, regulations within the law give doctors - and doctors alone - extraordinary discretionary power to grant women access to this vital medical service. What is grossly lacking among many of our physician colleagues is the will to provide this care. By invoking personal objections to abortion, many doctors have been complicit in causing the harm women in this country have suffered as a result of unsafe abortions.
"The Women's Health and Reproductive Rights Foundation (WHRRF) was established in 2007 with the aim of increasing access to safe abortion in Thailand. In addition to contributing expert opinion to abortion legislation and training health care providers on simple outpatient abortion techniques, the staff of the non-profit organisation conducts workshops aimed at de-stigmatising abortion care.
"These workshops have provided incredible insight into professional medical culture. Doctors and nurses almost always state that their reason for refusing to provide abortions is because "it is a sin". They express concern for their own spiritual fate as well as the spiritual fate of their family members. These health care providers believe they are protecting their spiritual well-being by denying women this procedure.
"The Health Ministry estimates there are up to 400,000 abortions in Thailand every year with over 90% being performed in potentially unsafe settings. We are aware of a few dozen doctors and nurses who provide abortion care for all indications permitted under Thai law. We could not expect these few brave providers to meet the needs of all women who seek abortion services. In order to reduce maternal death and disability, Thailand needs more trained and empathic abortion providers.”