International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September 2016
LETTER TO UN SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, UN Women, UNDP, WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNAIDS
In late 2015, we agreed to ask the United Nations to make 28 September an official UN Day. Below is a first letter inviting them to do so, giving our reasons why. The letter will be sent by us on 4 July.
2. Forward this message to friends and colleagues who support the right to safe abortion. Invite them to sign. And invite them to join the Campaign too.
4 July 2016
Open Letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and heads of UN agencies:
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women
Helen Clark, Administrator, UN Development Programme
Margaret Chan, Director General, World Health Organization
Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UN Population Fund
Anthony Lake, Executive Director, UN Children's Fund
Irina Bokova, Director General, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, UNAIDS
Re: Make International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September an official UN Day
Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and heads of UN agencies,
We, the undersigned, are writing to support the proposal of the International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion that you declare 28 September, International Safe Abortion Day, an official international UN Day.
The date 28 September was declared an international day of action for the decriminalization of abortion in 1990 by the women's health movement and has been celebrated annually ever since. In 2012, it was celebrated in 53 countries: 10 African countries, 8 Asia-Pacific countries, 14 European countries, 15 Latin American/Caribbean countries, 2 Middle Eastern countries, and 2 North American countries. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, the number of countries in Africa and Asia holding activities grew, and some nine regional and international NGOs also participated.
In 2015, the Ministries of Health in three countries – Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal and France – joined with national NGOs to celebrate the Day of Action. Dozens of groups internationally participated in a global tweetathon in 2015, which reached almost half a million people. Moreover, national news media have begun covering these activities in a growing number of countries, interviewing and drawing prominent national figures into the discussion. This year, we expect participation to be bigger than ever.
Activities for 28 September have included reports, articles, interviews on radio and TV, videos, marches, rallies, demonstrations, public meetings, discussion days, street theatre, flashmobs, surveys, opinion polls, art exhibitions, film showings, and music evenings. Activities aimed to have a longer-term impact have included campaigns for abortion law reform, clarification of the law and/or implementation of existing law, calls for increased access to safe abortion methods and services, training of providers, and efforts to obtain the release of women and abortion providers who are in prison. The outreach and impact of these activities at national and international level has grown substantially.
The call for safe abortion is in line with a number of international inter-governmental commitments, which began with the ICPD Programme of Action in 1994, Beijing Women's Conference Platform for Action 1995, and have continued with regional agreements such as the Convención de Belém do Pará in 1996 and the Maputo Protocol of 2005, all of which have recognised that unsafe abortion is a serious public health problem and that abortions need to be made safe.
In the past 5-10 years, a growing number of UN human rights bodies – including CEDAW, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on Civil and Political Rights, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice (UN Working Group), and the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) – have called for abortion to be made safe and on a growing list of grounds, also legal. In January 2016, ACHPR called for the decriminalisation of abortion across Africa and in April 2016 the UN Working Group also called on all States to "discontinue the use of criminal law to punish woman for ending a pregnancy".
There are major public health reasons why we are asking you to take this stand too. The annual number of abortions worldwide has increased from 50·4 million (1990-94) to 56·3 million (2010-14) because of population growth. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. Yet half of all abortions internationally are still unsafe, making the need for concerted action urgent.
Women are still suffering and dying from complications of unsafe abortion. Globally, deaths from unsafe abortion were estimated at 43,684 in 2013, accounting for 14.9% of all maternal deaths. Since ICPD 1994, in fact, almost 1 million women have died from unsafe abortions. These deaths were almost all unnecessary and avoidable.
Post-abortion care for complications of unsafe abortion was provided to 6.9 million women in developing regions in 2012, costing health systems an estimated US$ 232 million. Thus, post-abortion care in a situation of continuing illegality of abortion has proven since 1994 not to be an answer.
The human rights issues are also compelling. Women and/or abortion providers are being prosecuted for abortion in: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dubai, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and USA. Yet, as many as one in three women globally has an abortion in her lifetime. We are not criminals. None of us should be prosecuted for something that is a central fact of being a woman.
We therefore call on you, as UN agencies whose work touches on women's health and rights in so many ways, to send a strong signal to the international community and to all our governments, with a simple but highly symbolic statement of support for safe abortion, by agreeing to make International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September, an official UN day.