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Prevent backsliding and continue progress on access to safe and legal abortion care

Statement
Strasbourg 28/09/2022
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Prevent backsliding and continue progress on access to safe and legal abortion care

“I call on Council of Europe member states to continue the progress achieved so far in ensuring women and girls’ access to safe and legal abortion care. Any roll back of protections in this field is at variance with member states’ obligation to fully guarantee this human right”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović on International Safe Abortion Day.

“Most countries in Europe are progressively removing barriers which impede women and girls’ effective access to abortion care. San Marino recently legalised abortion care, joining the vast majority of member states that allow abortion on request. Other member states have also continued to enact legislation aimed at further removing procedural and regulatory barriers to accessing abortion care. For example, Germany has repealed the ban on medical professionals’ provision of evidence-based information on abortion in the public domain. The Netherlands has adopted a law removing the five-day mandatory waiting period before accessing abortion. France has, among other measures, eliminated the two-day mandatory waiting period and extended the time-limit for abortion on request to 14 weeks. In other states, such as Spain, reforms aiming at, inter alia, improving access to abortion care are under way.

Despite these important steps, the journey towards guaranteeing women and girls’ full and adequate access to safe and legal abortion care is still long. Many barriers in law and in practice remain and impede the full enjoyment of their rights. Regrettably, some European countries have moved in the opposite direction, taking steps which roll back progress achieved in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Hungary’s recent adoption of a ministerial decree, requiring pregnant women to listen to an ultrasound - before being able to access abortion care, places a new barrier to access to abortion care. In Poland, instances of pregnant women losing their lives allegedly due to delays in the provision of life-saving emergency care as a result of the highly restrictive abortion law in place have been recorded. Barriers to abortion care have also had an adverse impact on victims of sexual violence escaping war in Ukraine.

I encourage all member states to take part in the progress achieved in guaranteeing access to abortion care in Europe by bringing their laws and practices into line with human rights standards and regional best practices, and taking into consideration the World Health Organisation’s abortion care guideline.

It is also important to pay special attention to women and girls facing marginalisation and intersectional discrimination - such as women with disabilities, those of lower socio-economic status, Roma women, migrant women, as well as lesbian, bisexual and intersex women, and to take into account the needs of gender-diverse persons. I encourage the adoption of an inclusive and intersectional approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to safe and legal abortion care.

Human rights defenders advocating for safe and legal access to abortion care are one of the driving forces of positive change and the watchdogs against possible backsliding. However, they are also confronted with difficulties and even attacks. The efforts of human rights defenders working to ensure the upholding of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to abortion care, must be recognised. No defender should be subjected to administrative or judicial harassment for safeguarding human rights.”