States must ensure the highest standards of health for women, including the right to reproductive choices and access to contraceptives without any discrimination, the UN experts said. The UN issued a formal statement regarding the right to autonomous decision-making for women ahead of the coming World Contraception Day on September 26 and the International Safe Abortion Day on September 28.
“Though the world has been witnessing promising developments, some setbacks affect women’s sexual and reproductive health, including the right to safe abortion. According to human rights law, women must be free to decide when to get pregnant, the number of children to have, and how to space pregnancies. Policies and laws that deny women their sexual and reproductive rights are inherently discriminatory,” the UN statement read.
The setbacks caused by COVID-19, in addition to the legal restrictions placed on contraceptives on ideological grounds, have negatively affected women, particularly those in vulnerable situations. Many women have also been historically subjected to discrimination, and this included Black women, indigenous women, migrant women, women who are internally displaced, and those who are living in rural areas and have disabilities.
The UN statement crafted by the experts states that it is crucial to ensure that all women have adequate access to safe, effective, affordable, and acceptable methods of contraception. The experts at the UN argue that this is elemental in avoiding forced pregnancies. It would also inculcate the capacity to respect the autonomous decision-making of women and girls and may not limit the access to contraceptives for women to the authorization of their husbands, partners, and parents.
Further, the UN statement read, “Sexual and reproductive health strategies should take the needs of lesbian and bisexual women, trans men, and all gender diverse people into account. It also emphasized the responsibilities of the States in facilitating women and girls’ access to safe sexual choices.”
“States should redouble their efforts to dismantle all the practical barriers due to the lack of official regulations such as conscientious objection and the imposition of a spousal consent requirement, even when not required by law.”
According to the diligence obligation, governments are responsible for any such acts, including those committed by State and non-State actors that violate the fundamental rights of women. The obligations of the States also include the duty to investigate and prosecute such acts.
A report produced by the World Health Organization states that between 14,000 and 39,000 maternal deaths are caused by the failure of the States to provide safe abortions every year. Experts are of the opinion that for maternal mortality, it is very important to prevent unwanted pregnancies by providing safe access for women to contraception, safe medical abortion services, and quality post-abortion care. Women and girls must not be the centerpieces to serve fundamentalist ideologies and populist agendas. Religion and culture should not be the pretext for discrimination against women and girls.
“On World Contraception Day (September 26) and International Safe Abortion Day (September 28), States and their institutions must prioritize women’s sexual and reproductive choices and health rights. We also call on States to adopt legislations and policies that ensure women and girls can fully exercise their right to access safe sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion.”
The UN said that ensuring these aspects of women’s health is the international human rights obligation of the States so that women do not feel intimidated, stigmatized, or criminalized. The UN called on States to take steps toward the constitutional recognition of women’s sexual and reproductive choices and rights.
States and subsidiaries should also ensure that women and girls are equally participating in the decision-making, including the areas such as the national health system, to ensure that the rights of all women and girls are upheld without discrimination based on race, religion, or nationality, the UN stated.
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