Here in the United States, we’re fortunate that a woman’s right to an abortion has been protected by the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade for over four decades. In other countries like Poland and Northern Ireland, however, women can still face stiff prison sentences for seeking abortions. As a result, women in these countries are sometimes forced to travel hundreds of miles into other countries to receive abortions. In other cases, women turn to dangerous clandestine methods of abortion instead.
Now, the United Nations is calling on countries all over the world to repeal restrictive abortion legislation in an effort to protect the lives of their female citizens.
The UN Human Rights Council estimates that unsafe abortions claim the lives of roughly 50,000 women every year. Most of these dangerous procedures occur in places where abortion is criminalized by law. Rather than reducing abortion rates, this type of restrictive legislation merely forces women to undergo dangerous methods of abortion in secret. In fact, the UN notes that countries where abortion is legal and contraceptives are readily available have some of the lowest abortion rates in the world. Unfortunately, restrictive abortion laws still affect approximately 40 percent of the world’s population.
The UN didn’t pull any punches in their report, arguing that “restrictive legislation which denies access to safe abortion is one of the most damaging ways of instrumentalizing women’s bodies and a grave violation of women’s human rights.”
They also noted that the consequences of these laws are severe, potentially costing tens of thousands of women their lives each year. In light of the overwhelming evidence that criminalizing abortion does more harm than good, the UN is urging countries to revise their legislation and provide women with access to safe methods of abortion.
“The possibility of accessing safe abortion remains essential,” wrote the human rights experts in their report. “Unwanted pregnancies cannot be totally prevented since no contraceptive method is 100 percent effective, and women may be exposed to sexual violence.”
It’s time for state legislatures to stop making policies based on antiquated dogmas, and recognize that anti-abortion laws pose a very real threat to the health and well-being of women. Hopefully with the backing of the United Nations Human Rights Council, lawmakers who advocate for abortion rights in places like Poland will finally be able to make headway towards the repeal of these dangerous, misguided laws.