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03.06.13 - This month, national leaders, diplomats, and human rights defenders from around the world gathered in Geneva to attend the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This year's agenda touched on a number of issues—including those that are central to the Center's work:
The Challenges Abortion Providers Face as Human Rights Defenders
According to the UN News Centre, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders called on member countries to do more to strengthen legal protections for human rights defenders. She presented a report, expressing deep concern for the widespread trend of using legislation "to restrict, criminalize, and stigmatize the work of human rights defenders in all parts of the world." She also called on governments to allow abortion providers to do their jobs by decriminalizing restrictive laws.
Abortion providers, recognized by the council as human rights defenders, face an ongoing barrage of such restrictions, particularly in the United States, that severely hinder doctors from fully exercising their profession and even providing services. These restrictions serve no medical purpose. And they run the gamut from the cruel—forcing clinic staff to provide biased or misleading information to patients—to the inane—requiring clinics to make renovations such as higher ceilings or manicured bug-free lawns.
The Center hosted a panel on the consequences of these laws featuring Dr. Willie Parker, our defendant in the Mississippi case. Dr. Parker shared with the audience the many ways that the state of Mississippi makes it difficult to provide abortion care to women, including the recent passage of a law that threatens to close the state's last clinic. The law requires Dr. Parker to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. But admitting privileges are not easily come by under any circumstances. More importantly, such a requirement gives hospitals the power to decide whether abortion is even available in the state.
In fact, every local hospital has refused to grant those privileges. There's no medical reason for this requirement: an abortion is among the safest medical procedures—less than half of one percent lead to major complications—and most of those few complications can be addressed in an outpatient setting.
Governments Must Make Legal Abortion Available, Says Special Rapporteur on Torture for First Time
At a separate session, the Special Rapporteur on Torture presented a groundbreaking report framing abuses and violations in health care settings as torture, or cruel or degrading treatment. The Center offered examples from our work around the world of women being abused as a consequence of absolute abortion bans or coercive sterilization practices as examples.
According to online news outlet Scoop, the rapporteur agreed, identifying an emerging recognition of different forms of abuses, including in reproductive health settings, against patients and individuals under medical supervision:
"Examples of such violations include abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services such as abortion and post-abortion care; forced abortions and sterilizations; female genital mutilation; violations of medical secrecy and confidentiality in health-care settings, such as denunciations of women by medical personnel when evidence of illegal abortion is found; and the practice of attempting to obtain confessions as a condition of potentially life-saving medical treatment after abortion."
The Special Rapporteur used the report to call upon governments for the first time to make legal abortions accessible to women to prevent these abuses, and to take immediate action to stop all human rights violations in health care settings.