Why we’re still fighting on September 28th—the Global Day of Action to Decriminalize Abortion

September 28, 2016


By Kaitlyn Denzler, Women’s Rights Campaigner

Over two and a half years ago, Amnesty International launched the My Body, My Rights (MBMR) Campaign, a global effort to end the control and criminalization of sexuality and reproduction, and to help everyone know and claim their sexual and reproductive rights. Three years on, our work on sexual and reproductive rights remains as important as ever.  Here’s why we’re still fighting:

1) Ireland: Ireland has a near-total abortion ban, which means that abortion is only allowed if the life of the pregnant person is at risk. It also means that people are forced to make very difficult, if not impossible, decisions: leave Ireland—if that’s even an option—to obtain a safe and legal abortion, carry an unwanted or potentially deadly pregnancy to term, or seek out clandestine and often unsafe services and risk breaking the law.

This law violates human rights standards that demand—at a minimum—that abortion is allowed in cases of rape, incest, if the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk, or when there is severe or fatal fetal impairment. It also violates human rights standards of equal access to rights, as it disproportionately affects poorer women who can’t afford to travel (which they shouldn’t have to do in the first place).

In Ireland and other cities across the world, communities have been hitting the streets demanding a change to Ireland’s restrictive and harmful abortion laws. Activists have been calling for a referendum to repeal the laws, including the Eighth Amendment that protects the fetus’ right to life on an equal footing with the pregnant person’s. The Prime Minister will hold a citizen’s assembly next month to discuss whether a referendum should take place. During these discussions, it’s crucial that we continue to stand in solidarity with activists in Ireland and across the world, rallying behind #repealtheeighth, and putting pressure on the Irish government. 

2) El Salvador: Many of you have already helped us achieve huge victories on behalf of the “Las 17” (the group of women in prison on pregnancy-related charges), with the release of women like Maria Teresa Rivera, imprisoned for miscarrying. But there are more people still behind bars with similar stories and backgrounds—women who come from poor, marginalized communities without access to strong legal representation.

Unfortunately, it might get worse. In July, a group of parliamentarians from the opposition party in El Salvador, ARENA, proposed an increase in jail terms to up to 50 years for women accused of having an abortion. In response to the proposal, activists have been protesting and are not backing down. We cannot forget the women who are still in prison, and we must not stop supporting the activists fighting against these draconian, harmful laws.

3) Poland: The government of Poland is also putting the lives and health of women and girls at risk by restricting abortion access. Last week, Poland’s parliament passed forward a near-total abortion ban, that would also criminalize abortion, making the pregnant person and healthcare professionals liable to a prison term of between three months to five years. Under the bill, inadvertently causing the death of the ‘conceived child’ also carries a prison term for the health professional.

Just like in Ireland, laws like this create a “chilling effect” which prevent pregnant people from seeking services even if their health is at risk, and it can prevent healthcare professionals from providing life-saving services to their patient.

In response to these parliamentary discussions and decisions, thousands of people in Poland and other cities across the world have been protesting. Some have been posting selfies wearing black, the color of mourning in Poland, as part of the ‘black protest’ (#CzarnyProtest) online. And more protests are planned for October 1st.

4) The United States. Here at home we’ve been witness to public figures oscillating on their calls for stricter abortion laws, even calling for a total abortion ban and punitive consequences. We’ve seen states try to close health clinics that offer abortion care.  And we’ve seen the first case in the U.S. where a woman from Indiana was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of feticide (or illegally inducing her own abortion) and child neglect.[1]  Such proposals and cases defy human rights standards and put the lives of millions of women and girls at risk.

The realities in Ireland, El Salvador, Poland, and the U.S. are, unfortunately, only a few of many examples across the world where denial of abortion access and increased control over people’s bodies have far-reaching and dire consequences, especially on low-income, marginalized communities. They go against international human rights standards, and they leave people with very stark choices, or no choice at all. This is why we are still working and why we need your support!

Despite the harsh reality for women and girls, activists all around the world are rallying for their rights— and you can join them, not only by supporting protests in Ireland, Poland, and El Salvador, but by knowing and claiming your rights!  Download our Fall 2016 My Body, My Rights Toolkit, where you’ll learn more about sexual and reproductive rights and how to connect with AIUSA’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights Advocate Trainers—volunteer youth leaders responsible for human rights education activities in their regions.

Check out our Fall 2016 My Body My Rights Toolkit!

[1] An appeals court threw out the feticide charge, and reduced the child neglect charge in July 2016. Indiana’s attorney general decided not to appeal the overturning of her conviction. Patel was released from prison on September 1, 2016.