Global leaders call for accelerated action on safe, legal abortion

Repeal criminal abortion laws, ensure universal access to services

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

WASHINGTON—Political, health and human rights leaders from more than 25 countries issued a declaration today, The Airlie Declaration for Safe Legal Abortion,” calling for the repeal of all criminal abortion laws and universal access to safe legal abortion. 

The Declaration was released at a press briefing following a two-day meeting at Airlie Center, Virginia, and against the backdrop of the 20-year review by the United Nations of the Program of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and global debates about the post-2015 development agenda.

Watch the press briefing at the National Press Club.

The Airlie Declaration focuses on the slow progress on improving access to safe abortion since the Cairo conference, drawing attention to estimates that more than 1 million women have died and more than 100 million have suffered injuries – many of them lifelong – due to complications from unsafe abortion. The Declaration calls on governments to “make safe legal abortion universally available and accessible to all women regardless of age, income, or where they live.”

“To have leaders from such diverse countries and cultures united in support of this goal is a hopeful sign that we can move beyond the polarizing politics of abortion and transform women’s rights into reality,” said Elizabeth Maguire, President and CEO of Ipas, an international reproductive health organization

Maguire co-convened the meeting with Dr. Nafis Sadik, former Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Secretary General of the Cairo conference. Other co-conveners included Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, and Ivens Reis Reyner of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Health.  

“The agreement in Cairo to make abortion ‘safe where legal’ was a breakthrough at the time, but it is unsatisfactory in many respects,” Dr. Sadik said. “The agreement approaches abortion as an outlier in the discussion of women’s reproductive health, whereas we know very well that it is an integral concern to many women.”  She went on to call for “opening a discussion about safe and legal abortion, in every part of every country, for the health and wellbeing of every woman.” 

Maguire criticized U.S. foreign policy for failing to support open dialogue on abortion issues overseas and pointed to harms resulting from the Helms Amendment on U.S. foreign aid.  Helms and related provisions have long been implemented as a complete ban on U.S. funding for abortion, although it is legally permissible in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the woman.

Speaking at the briefing, the Honorable Dr. Arzu Rana Deuba, Member of Parliament and Constituent Assembly from Nepal, pointed to progress in her country after legal reform a decade ago freed women who were imprisoned for abortion.  She declared that “Along with access to contraception and improvements in obstetric care, safe abortion is widely recognized as a key factor in the decline in maternal mortality in Nepal.” 

Reyner from Brazil, stressed that “young people will not hang on to the dogmas of earlier generations.” He continued:  “We will not tolerate efforts to keep us from exercising our reproductive rights.  We will ensure that our voices are heard and that we have the sexual and reproductive health information and services we need, including safe abortion.” 

Ipas co-sponsored the meeting with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

The Airlie Declaration is available online at www.safeabortionpost2015.org