Reflections On Our Countries – September 2017 special edition on abortion rights

September 26, 2017

26 Sep, 2017


Every month RESURJ members collectively share and reflect on some news highlights affecting sexual and reproductive, environmental and economic justice from the different regions and countries we work in…Brazil – India – Pakistan – Philippines – Sri Lanka – UK

Brazil: Decriminalization of abortion – the My Abortion Story Campaign*

By Sinara Gumieri 

This year on September 28th, the Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion, will be met in Brazil by a historic opportunity. In March 2017, the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), with support from Anis – Institute of Bioethics, filed a petition with the Brazilian Supreme Court calling for the decriminalization of abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. It was no small feat: under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, only a few organizations and government officials are eligible for bringing a constitutional case before the Supreme Court.  It took almost 30 years for such a basic demand for women’s human rights to reach the Court.

In Brazil, abortion is a crime under the 1940 Penal Code; the only three exceptions are in cases of rape, risk to the woman’s life, and fetal anencephaly. The latter legal ground was granted in a Supreme Court decision, in 2012, in a case that was also supported by Anis. The current petition states that the criminalization of abortion violates women’s rights to dignity, citizenship, non-discrimination, life, equality, freedom, freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, health, and family planning, all of which are existing rights  protected under the Brazilian Constitution.

*This excerpt is from an article published on the South Feminist Voices blog. To read the full article, click here.

India: Abortion services for young rape survivors

By Jasmine Lovely George

Abortion is legal under certain conditions in India within Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. In India, the news of young rape survivors being denied abortion services has been in the public eye for some time. In both cases, the survivors, a ten-year-old that was 28 weeks pregnant, ands a 13-year-old that was 26 weeks pregnant, were turned away for abortion by the local medical boards, owing to the advanced stages of pregnancy. According to Section 5 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, doctors in India have decision making power to  provide abortion services to a survivors of rape, yet in these cases the doctors denied  abortion.  

This in turn resulted in the survivors having to apply to the courts and medical boards further delaying the termination of pregnancies. In both the cases, the young survivors had to continue the pregnancy to full term. Recent amendments to India’s rape laws in 2013 – Section 357C CrPC and Rule 5 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act – make it mandatory for all public and private hospitals to provide immediate treatment to rape survivors and abortion is part of the treatment. There is  a Public Interest Litigation pending in Supreme Court to set up a permanent medical board as in each district of India for expedient termination of pregnancies in exceptional cases involving child rape survivors.

Most health service providers in India, still do not consider abortion as care and there is resistance in providing it to young unmarried people. A woman and a girl should have a right to decide whether to continue her pregnancy or not. As part of September 28 campaign and #AbortTheStigma campaign by Civil society several organizations like Hidden Pockets Collective, ASAP and CREA have been demanding to make abortion a right on demand and provide care to rape survivors.

WGNRR & Ipas Global release Comic-Strip series of Global Abortion Advocacy Achievements, for September 28th, including this one from Hidden Pockets, India.

The State of Abortion in Pakistan Today

By Sheena Hadi

Pakistan’s unsafe abortion figures remain staggeringly high with an annual 2.2 million estimated abortions and an approximate 54% of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion. Unsafe abortions performed in ill-equipped and unsanitary conditions, continue to contribute to 6% of overall maternal deaths in the country [1]. In part, the lack of contraceptive prevalence in Pakistan (approximately 35% with 20% unmet need) plays a significant role in lending to women seeking out abortions as a solution to their need to manage their family size. Yet, perhaps of more consequence, is the deep social stigma that is faced by women who want to control their reproductive choices whether it be by accessing and using contraception, or the terminating an unwanted pregnancy.  Women in both rural and urban settings continue to face discrimination and be turned away from service providers when trying to access safe abortion services, ultimately resulting in them turning to unskilled providers. Pakistan’s abortion laws are imprecise; while cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality are not addressed, abortion is permitted early on in pregnancy if there are clear health benefits to the woman. Regardless, providers are often either ignorant of the law or hold beliefs that take precedence above the law, particularly now so in the growing conservative environment of the country.

While the government of Pakistan has started to make some moves towards scaling up and holistically integrating reproductive health services in basic health service packages, there is a need for a much deeper commitment to address quality of services, and raise public awareness to tackle social stigma. In 2016, for example, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Association(PEMRA) banned all media advertisements about contraception while the government simultaneously recommitted to increasing modern contraceptive prevalence to 55%. Similarly, while Misoprostol was added to the essential drug list in the province of Sindh, it was only included for the use of postpartum haemorrhage, reinforcing the existing stigma linked to induced abortions. In part, many of these contradictions can be traced back to addressing access to contraception and abortion in a vacuum of public health statistics rather than formulating interventions that consider socio-economic, gender and rights-based concerns. Far more compelling and informative than the statistics, are the personal stories shared by women who have tried to access safe abortion services. These stories capture how women’s rights to mobility, choice, informed-decision making, and safe services have been systematically curtailed and reveal where and how legal, economic, health and social interventions need to focus attention. Their stories also encapsulate the well-documented truth, that when women have access to their basic reproductive rights, they make decisions, which benefit not only themselves and their families, but also the entire community.

[1] Sathar, Z., Singh, S., Rashida, G., Shah, Z., & Niazi, R. (2014). Induced Abortions and Unintended Pregnancies in Pakistan. Studies in Family Planning, 45(4), 471-491.

Philippines: Abortion Art

By May-I Fabros

In the absence of access to contraceptives and safe abortion, women are pushed to the wall, and find means however dangerous to prevent pregnancy.

Support Abortion Reform in Sri Lanka

By Sachini Perera

Abortion is criminalized in Sri Lanka with one exception; to save the life of the woman. Several attempts have been made in the past to, if not decriminalize abortion, then to at least relax the law to include more exceptions. However, these attempts have been thwarted due to a lack of political will and the influence of religious leaders, especially the Catholic Church. Sri Lanka is included in the list of “most restrictive” countries when it comes to abortion law and “stands out as a rare exception being a middle income country (whereas the majority of  countries belonging to this list are low income ones)”. While Sri Lanka has good socio-economic indicators in South Asia, the country’s abortion law is trailing behind other South Asian countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan and the Maldives.

In August 2017, an amendment to the abortion law was proposed by the Ministry of Health which, if passed, will allow abortions in two instances: in the case of a foetus with lethal congenital malformation and when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. While these amendments are a far cry from full decriminalization of abortion demanded by women’s rights activists in the country and are worryingly not centered around a woman’s choice (both exceptions are at the discretion of medical practitioners in state hospitals and in the case of rape, there is involvement of law enforcement too), it is deeply concerning to see religious leaders mobilizing to intervene with the passage of this amendment and the lack of political will from some quarters.

It is estimated that over 700 abortions happen in Sri Lanka each day and septic abortion is the third highest cause of maternal mortality in the country. A majority of these illegal, and often unsafe, abortions are performed on married women (94% by some estimates), their main reasons being economic instability and not wanting more children. Therefore it is apparent that the proposed amendments are just a starting point in addressing a much larger problem.  Decriminalizing abortion in Sri Lanka must be one component of a comprehensive strategy that protects women’s rights in Sri Lanka and champions women’s right to make decisions related to  their bodies. Such a strategy should include the introduction and implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for young people in and out of school (which is currently making extremely slow progress) as well as availability of quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, that are provided non-judgmentally to anyone who wants  them.

Change must begin somewhere and we call on all supporters of women’s human rights to add their voice to this struggle by signing this petition in support of the proposed amendment to the relax abortion law in Sri Lanka.

English Sinhala Tamil

Creeping religious conservatism and right wing movements, threatening abortion rights in the UK*

By Mari-Claire Price

The UK is no secular state. In every corner of UK law, parliament, the House of Lords, and the monarchy, are Christian traditions dating back centuries. From the reading of prayers before each sitting in parliament, the crime of blasphemy (specifically against Christianity) being abolished only in 2008, to the UK being the only western country that gives automatic right to religious representatives to sit in the legislature (26 Church of England bishops known as the Lords Spiritual). Religion, Christianity in particular,  has permeated every aspect  of UK  law and political history.

In recent years, despite progress thanks to the work of abortion rights activists in the UK, we are witnessing a creeping religious conservatism and right wing populism in politics, that is threatening abortion rights across the the country. Firstly, and more overtly, in the growth of right wing populism and support for parties including the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the British National Party (BNP), and Britain First, who are all strongly anti-choice and homophobic. Support for these parties that has fuelled already rising racism and xenophobia, most recently witnessed in the rise in support for the right wing campaign for the UK to leave the EU.  

*This excerpt is from an article published on the South Feminist Voices blog. To read the full article, click here.