Amid a surge in debate in Latin America over abortion in light of the suspected link between the outbreak of the Zika virus and the rise in cases of the birth defect known as microcephaly at the epicenter of the epidemic, women took to streets in pro-choice rallies across the region and beyond Wednesday, demanding access to safe abortions and an end to the criminalization of their reproductive choices.
From Bolivia to Spain, New York to Ireland, events were planned to raise awareness about improving women’s health to give them greater access to free and safe reproductive care and abortion services as part of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion.
In Argentina, an action under the banner “I Aborted” Tuesday exhibited women's personal experiences with abortion to push back against the stigma, shame, and criminalization associated with having an abortion.
The actions come as a group of U.N. experts urged countries around the world to lift restrictive bans on abortions and overhaul policies that punish and discriminate against women who have had or want to have abortions and instead offer fully legal, safe, and affordable reproductive health care.
“Criminalization of abortion and failure to provide adequate access to services for termination of an unwanted pregnancy are forms of discrimination based on sex,” reads a statement from the expert group, slamming prohibitive legislation as a serious violation of women’s human rights. “The consequences for women are severe, with women sometimes paying with their lives.”
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 47,000 women die every year due to complications in the 22 million unsafe abortions around the world. Pro-choice advocates have long argued that outlawing abortion won’t stop women from seeking the procedure, but it will push them to dangerous last resorts. For the 40 percent of the global population living under such restrictive laws, desperate measures are the only reality for millions of women every year.
In some countries—and some U.S. states—abortion is completely criminalized, and women could face jail time for having an illegal abortion, as was the case for Indiana resident Purvi Patel before her 20-year jail sentence was overturned.
“Prohibition does not reduce the need and the number of abortions,” the U.N. experts wrote. “It merely increases the risks to the health and life of women and girls who resort to unsafe and illegal services.”
Echoing the demands of women who continue to take to the streets to demand free choice, the U.N. experts called on countries around the world holding on to restrictive laws to overturn such policies that discriminate against women with serious consequences for public health and human rights.
“We cannot tolerate the severe violation of women’s human rights on the basis of their sex and biological differences,” they wrote. “We cannot tolerate the high incidence of women’s and girls’ preventable deaths resulting from maternity-related issues, including from unsafe abortion.”