International Women’s Human Rights Defenders Day

For the women and men who provide reproductive health services and fight for women's rights to the full range of reproductive healthcare, every day comes with not just the challenge of doing incredibly important work but also the weight of facing an opposition that is hostile, aggressive, and too often dangerous.

On November 29, the world salutes the many whose bravery, passion, and commitment are paramount to protecting and advancing the health, equality, dignity, and autonomy of women. The Center for Reproductive Rights is proud to stand with those who work tirelessly to defend women's fundamental rights around the world.

Women's rights defenders play many roles: as doctors, nurses, lawyers, activists, journalists. On top of the stigma and discrimination that come with their commitment to reproductive rights, they face numerous hazards in their daily work. In places where abortion is still criminalized and highly restricted, threats include arrest and judicial harassment. Legislative attacks on established rights persist in the U.S. and all over the world. And some extremist individuals and organizations opposed to reproductive freedom have been known to resort to more violent methods: murder, assault, arson, and intimidation.

Today, the Center commends those who, at great cost to their personal and professional lives, continue to ensure all women have the right to make their own decisions about their reproductive health and future.

Consider, for example, two of the human rights defenders we are representing in a difficult fight to maintain access to abortion and other reproductive health services in Kansas .

As a girl, Traci Nauser knew that her father's work as a full-service OB/GYN doctor made him a target. But she also knew how important his work was for women in Kansas, so she became a doctor, too, and joined his practice.

It is one of just a few that still provide abortions in the state. For Dr. Nauser's father, Dr. Herbert Hodes, doing so is a way of ensuring that his patients will never live through the nightmarish scenes he witnessed as a young physician in the days before legalized abortion.

"I've seen the horrors of illegal abortions," he says. "I told myself when I went into practice that I never wanted to see that again."

Dr. Hodes also knows too well the threat of violence that is often implicit in the anti-choice opposition's words and deeds. In the U.S., eight abortion providers-including four physicians-have been murdered in the last 20 years, most recently Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009.

Today, abortion providers in Kansas are fighting for their existence. The state's legislature is trying to choke off abortion by enacting absurd, medically unnecessary licensing requirements and regulations aimed solely at putting doctors who provide abortions out of business. The Center has already won critical victories temporarily blocking enforcement of these regulations-and keeping the doors of Drs. Hodes and Nauser's practice open-and we will keep fighting until they are permanently overturned.

The U.S. hardly is hardly the only country where defenders of women's human rights are under vicious assault. The Center has pursued justice on behalf of women, and the providers and advocates who serve them, in dozens of countries in which the anti-choice agenda has found solid footing in government and culture.

And the work that we and our partners have done is producing results. Last year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, released a report that addressed the critical need to protect those offering reproductive health services and the people protecting their right to do so. She called on governments to hold all violators accountable, explaining that "fighting impunity is essential to this group of defenders." Other prominent human rights bodies worldwide are drawing increased attention to the struggles that the providers of reproductive health services face, emphasizing their role as defenders of human rights.

Each day, human rights defenders put their careers, their reputations, and their lives on the line to make sure women have access to reproductive healthcare. It's a tough job, nothing short of a calling. And the Center will honor that commitment, each and every day, though our tireless efforts to protect and advance women's fundamental human rights.