Activists Celebrate “International Day to Promote Abortion” Day Today. Guess Who’s Not Celebrating

International   |   Marie Smith   |   May 28, 2015   |   11:07AM   |   Washington, DC

Today, May 28, pro-abortion activists around the world are calling for universal access to abortion and rallying against laws that ban or restrict abortion calling such laws “institutional violence” against women. May 28 is not only a day but a campaign designated by a coalition of NGOs as International Day for Women’s Health with its main message calling for the removal of laws limiting or banning access to abortion.

According to the May 28 campaign: “The systematic denial of women’s right to access safe and legal abortion services, and/or the criminalization of abortion, is one of the most severe examples of institutional violence in regards of sexual and reproductive health and rights”.

Coalition members include Amnesty International, ARROW, ASTRA Youth, Center for Reproductive Rights, Ipas, IPPF, Pathfinder, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) and World YWCA which claim, using standard pro-abortion arguments, that governments need to “be held accountable” when pro-life laws block access to abortion:

“Women’s right to comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion, is rooted in international human rights standards, which guarantee the rights to life, health, privacy and non-discrimination. These rights are seriously violated when governments make abortion services inaccessible to women who need them. According to international legislation, governments can be held accountable for highly restrictive abortion laws and for failure to ensure access to abortion when it is legal. When women are forced to resort to unsafe abortions, governments are responsible for the high death rates and the dangerous health consequences.”

The May 28 campaign makes no mention of the negative consequences of abortion on women’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. It makes no mention of holding governments accountable for the harmful effects abortion can have on a woman or for the violence and death imposed upon the vulnerable and marginalized unborn child. There is no mention of the life-saving impact of pro-life laws in countries with low maternal mortality such as Chile and Ireland.



The campaign does acknowledge that “a significant number of countries in the world” restrict access to abortion; it equates carrying an unplanned pregnancy with “cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, as stated by various Human Rights Bodies”. In reality, no U.N. treaty declares a right to abortion but members of treaty monitoring bodies distort the meaning of universally recognized human rights to advance access to abortion.

Social media is featured in the campaign. Throughout the day tweets are being sent using #May28 and #WomensHealthMatters. The campaign has also posted ‘10 Reasons Why You Should Be Taking Action On The International Day Of Action For Women’s Health!’ on Buzzfeed.

This year, the day takes on addition motivation as negotiations continue at the United Nations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will guide development policies, funding and priorities from January 2016 to January 2031. The campaign prepared a model letter for its supporters — Ensuring Women and Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights in the Post-2015 Agenda—that they hope will be sent to government officials as the final negotiations on the SDGs take place during June and July. It includes:

“Yet one form of violence, particularly experienced by women and girls if they are    young, unmarried, poor, HIV affected, of diverse sexual orientations or gender         identities, living with a disability, or in other vulnerable situations, remains rampant    and unaddressed: namely, the institutional violence they experience when they are       denied their right to health and are unable to access sexual and reproductive health      services.”

Examples of “institutional violence” cited in the letter are: “The denial of the right to access and/or the criminalization of safe abortion services;” and “The denial of access to contraceptives and emergency contraception.”

The letter ends with a plea for governments to “support over the remaining Post-2015 processes, as well implement at national level, a comprehensive approach to women’s health, accounting for the full spectrum of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health issues, needs, and rights.”

The “significant number of countries in the world” that restrict abortion, and whose laws are targeted by the campaign, recognize that abortion is a reproductive wrong. They ought to be commended for their policies that seek to protect women and children from the violence of abortion and supported in their actions at the United Nations to maintain their sovereign right to determine national laws on abortion, especially during debate over the Post 2015 development agenda and the SDGs. Note:  Marie Smith is the director of the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues.