Health and life indications

World Health Organization resources

World Health Organization, Constitution of the World Health Organization, entered into force 7 April 1948.
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) includes physical, mental and social well-being. "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
World Health Organization, Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems. (2nd ed., 2012)
Since all countries that are members of WHO accept its constitutional description of health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity," laws that allow abortion to protect women's health should be interpreted in conformity with this definition.
Ensuring that laws, even when restrictive, are interpreted and implemented to promote and protect women's health is essential.
Safe Abortion Guidance recognizes that the right to life and the right to health require that woman can access safe abortion when indicated to protect their life (including when a pregnancy is life threatening or otherwise) and health. Almost all countries allow abortion to be performed to save the life of the pregnant woman. This is consistent with the human right to life, which requires protection by law, including when pregnancy is life- threatening or a pregnant woman's life is otherwise endangered. Both medical and social conditions can constitute life-threatening conditions. Countries that provide detailed lists of what they consider life threatening can be misinterpreted restrictively and should not preclude clinical judgment in the situation of a particular woman. Recognizes, for example, that some doctors consider possibility of seeking life threatening clandestine abortion if woman is not provided legal abortion, could be considered falling within life exception. Even where protecting a woman's life is the only allowable reason for abortion, it is essential that there are trained providers of abortion services, that services are available and known, and that treatment for complications of unsafe abortion
 is widely available. Health-care providers are obligated to provide life-saving medical care to any woman who suffers abortion-related complications, including treatment of complications from unsafe abortion, regardless of the legal grounds for abortion.
Regarding women's health, the WHO guidance recommends interpretation of health exception in line with WHO broad definition of health. Thus, physical health is widely understood to include conditions that aggravate pregnancy and those aggravated by pregnancy. The scope of mental health includes psychological distress or mental suffering caused by, for example, coerced or forced sexual acts and diagnosis of severe fetal impairment. A woman's social circumstances are also taken into account to assess health risk.
World Health Organization, Considerations for Formulating Reproductive Health Laws, (2nd edition, 2000)
The purpose of this discussion paper is to consider how laws can be developed in order to improve protection of reproductive and sexual health, and how they can be applied to facilitate rather than obstruct the availability of reproductive and sexual health services. It addresses legal principles governing relations between providers of health services in general and of reproductive and sexual health services in particular, and intended recipients of those services. The legal principles that are examined include those governing free and informed decision making, privacy and confidentiality, the competent delivery of services and the use of conscientious objection. The Paper explores how human rights found in national constitutions and laws, regional and international treaties have been and can be more effectively applied to protect and promote reproductive and sexual health.