as UN Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard recommends the repeal of all
criminal abortion laws. Her message is clear: When women die from unsafe
abortion, governments may be responsible for arbitrary killing.
Callamard is Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or
Arbitrary Executions. Her report, says Patty Skuster, Ipas senior legal
advisor, “strengthens the links between violations of the right to life
and unsafe abortion and is an additional tool for advocates who
influence national legislatures, courts, and global policy makers.”
The report, which drew on input from Ipas, was submitted to the UN
Human Rights Commission in May. It shows that violations of the right to
life stem not only from intentional deprivation of life by a state or a
non-state actor, but also from the deprivation of basic conditions that
guarantee life, such as access to essential health care.
Callamard writes that states have “extensive knowledge of the
life-threatening implications of unsafe abortion practices and the
consequential number of deaths resulting from this recourse.” Laws that
expand access to abortion, she says, do not increase the number of
abortions but rather result in fewer deaths. Previous international
treaties and documents have linked women’s and girls’ deaths from unsafe
abortion to the right to life, and many countries have been condemned
for criminalizing and restricting access to abortion.
The report notes that restrictive abortion laws not only violate the
right to life but amount to torture. Yet, it says, “some States choose
to impose an absolute ban on abortion and criminalise it. …The death of a
woman, where it can be medically linked to a deliberate denial of
access to life-saving medical care because of an absolute legal ban on
abortion, would not only constitute a violation of the right to life and
an arbitrary deprivation of life. It would also amount to a
gender-based arbitrary killing, only suffered by women, as a result of
discrimination enshrined in law,” the report states.
Callamard concludes that abortion restrictions impose a “significant
chilling” effect on doctors and women that pushes women toward unsafe
abortion resulting in serious injury or death. “Depending on the
individual circumstances of each case, one may be able to conclude that
these deaths constitute an arbitrary deprivation of life,” she writes.
Included among the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations are that states:
- Repeal laws criminalizing abortion;
- Ensure that women do not have to undertake life-threatening clandestine abortions;
- Adopt clear regulations and guidelines on safe and legal
abortion for health professionals providing abortion and postabortion
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