(PRESS RELEASE) For the first time ever a committee within the Organization of American States (OAS)—considered to be the United Nations for the Americas—is recommending that all governments decriminalize abortion in cases of rape and incest, when the woman’s health or life is at risk and in cases of fetal impairments.
This OAS committee focused on addressing violence against women is calling on governments to recognize violence against women as a form of gender discrimination and to condemn all forms of such violence, including those related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The committee also recommends that governments ensure sexual and reproductive health care, including access to free medical services and care for survivors of sexual violence.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Denying safe, legal care to women who need to end a pregnancy is an act of violence, and it is a tremendous measure of progress that a body within the Organization of American States has recognized this.
“Women denied this essential health care service face serious threats to their lives, families, and future as a result of unsafe and illegal abortions.
“There can be no denying that this is a violation of women’s fundamental human rights.
“We commend the progressive voices within the Organization of American States for recognizing that abortion is not a crime and women’s reproductive and sexual rights must be respected and protected. And we will continue working to hold governments accountable for guaranteeing and protecting women’s access to a full range of safe, legal reproductive health care services as a matter of basic human rights in the Americas.”
The Declaration on Violence Against Women, Girls and Adolescents and their Sexual and Reproductive Rights passed by the OAS committee this week recognizes that “gender-based violence is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedom on a basis of equality with men.” In the declaration, the committee acknowledges that gender discrimination and cultural stereotypes are obstacles that hinder women and girls from exercising their human rights, including seeking medical care and legal recourse when subjected to sexual violence.
The OAS committee oversees the “Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women” (Convention of Belém do Pará). The Convention, which entered into force in 1995, defines violence against women in broad terms and establishes the obligations of states in preventing, investigating, and punishing violations of women’s physical, sexual and psychological integrity, and other related rights, with the intention of eliminating violence against women. The declaration is a critical advocacy tool that can be used in national and regional litigation and advocacy.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has spoken out on violence stemming from sexual and reproductive rights abuses. Earlier this month, the Center testified alongside reproductive health and human rights advocates before the OAS committee as they were drafting the declaration. And earlier this year, the Center spoke at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on women’s rights issues, including discrimination, violence and reproductive rights violations in the Dominican Republic.
According to a new Center report, 35 countries have amended their laws to expand access to safe and legal abortion services in the last 20 years—a trend that has marked incredible progress toward improving women’s rights and lives, including significantly reducing rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion. The report was released alongside the Center’s updated World’s Abortion Laws map—one of the most comprehensive resources on abortion laws across the globe.