The below is a joint press release between Amnesty International, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, MSI Reproductive Choices, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), International Confederation of Midwives and Ipas.
People who are defending the right to abortion and providing essential services are being stigmatized, intimidated, attacked and subjected to unjust prosecutions, making their work increasingly difficult and dangerous to carry out, said Amnesty International in a new report out today.
The report, An Unstoppable Movement: A global call to recognize and protect those who defend the right to safe abortions, reveals how many healthcare workers, activists, advocates and accompaniers around the world face abuse, arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for supporting the right of women, girls and people to access abortions. Such an environment is prevalent including in countries where abortion is partially allowed by law. It is having a chilling, silencing and stigmatizing effect on all those defending access to abortion, as they live in constant fear of being attacked and prosecuted for providing abortion care, whether it is legal or not. It is also creating major barriers for women, girls and people who need abortion care – particularly those who are most marginalised.
“The right to abortion is not an opinion. It is a matter of international standards and international legal norms. It is a right underpinned by many human rights, including the rights to physical and mental integrity, the right to health and the right not to be unlawfully and arbitrarily killed through the withdrawal of safe services. It is essential for the dignity of all women and girls, and of everyone who can become pregnant. Those who defend and enable exercise of that right deserve our respect and protection. Yet, many States around the world persist with policies of over-regulation and criminalization that generate hostile, even perilous environments for those who defend the right to abortion,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Anti-abortion rhetoric, policies and laws stamp a target on the backs of health workers and advocates. Stigmatized, abused, discriminated against, criminalized, imprisoned, even killed - the rights of those who defend the right to abortion are under attack. But their human rights to work without fear, to provide essential services without threat, to exercise their professional skills without discrimination, must be respected and protected.”
Isolated and unsupported
While progressive abortion law reform continues, anti-abortion regressions impede access with the promotion of disinformation and toxic narratives - smear campaigns that hijack public discourse and agitate against the right to abortion and against those who defend it.
“For many sexual and reproductive health providers this harassment and abuse has come to feel like just part of the job, but we cannot allow this to become the new normal,” said Sarah Shaw, MSI Reproductive Choices’ Head of Advocacy. “Enough is enough. It’s time to recognise abortion providers as human rights defenders and stand up for those who put their lives on the line to make choice possible.”
Throughout the report, based on more than 40 interviews with abortion rights defenders from all over the world and with the support of global healthcare and grassroots organizations, people defending the right to abortion, particularly healthcare workers, explained how they often feel isolated and unsupported. Their work is not recognised, and they are left fearing the threat of criminalization, harassment, stigmatization, verbal threats and violence, as well as ostracization and burnout in the workplace. Some health workers have seen their personal details leaked online, while others are unsure whether they’ll make it home safely. For example:
- Venezuelan teacher and human rights defender Vannesa Rosales was criminalized for helping a woman and her 13-year-old daughter get access to abortion.
- In Poland, Justyna Wydrzyńska, a member of Abortion Without Borders and the Abortion Dream Team, was convicted for helping a woman access abortion pills earlier this year - a safe way of terminating a pregnancy.
- In Ghana, an advocate for sexual and reproductive rights said service providers have experienced physical violence and public shaming by members of the public, for educating people about contraception.
“Violence against frontline sexual and reproductive health care providers is something that continues to happen unabated; it's about time the voices, experiences and concerns of our frontline defenders are heard,” said Alvaro Bermejo, International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Director General.
“As anti-abortion authorities around the world continue to deploy stigma, fear and hate-speech against those seeking and those providing services, we, as institutional champions of sexual and reproductive health and rights, commit to matching the courage of our frontline defenders.”