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African Commission Calls on Uganda to Ensure The Right to Legal Abortion and Access to Reproductive Health Services

(PRESS RELEASE) The government of Uganda should stop impeding access to medical abortion and reproductive health services, according to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights—a regional body charged with ensuring African states comply with their human rights obligations under regional and international human rights treaties.

The African Commission’s recommendations call for Uganda to implement the Maputo Protocol—the only treaty, at both the international and regional levels, that explicitly guarantees the right to legal abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health or life of the woman or in cases of fatal fetal impairments.

Abortion in Uganda is legal in limited circumstances, yet approximately 85,000 women each year receive treatment for complications from unsafe abortion and an additional 65,000 women experience complications but do not seek medical treatment.

“Too many women and girls in Uganda put their health and lives at risk because the government has failed to ensure they have access to safe abortion services when they need it,” said Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We commend the African Commission for putting the reproductive rights of these women and girls first, and urge Uganda to expedite implementation of the Maputo Protocol and expand access safe and legal abortion.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) submitted a letter to the African Commission in October 2014 that highlighted a range of reproductive health and human rights issues including the lack of access to comprehensive contraceptive services and information, lack of access to safe abortion services and post-abortion care, high incidence of maternal deaths and injuries, discrimination against women living with HIV and AIDS, and expulsion of pregnant girls from school.

In its recommendations, the Africa Commission urges Uganda to expedite all draft bills in Parliament which have bearing on protection of women’s rights, including the Marriage and Divorce Bill which has been pending for more than 15 years. The commission also calls for the strengthening of protections for Ugandans livings with HIV and AIDS, including making amendments to the “HIV Prevention and AIDS Control Bill.” The law, which was passed in August 2014, criminalizes the transmission of HIV, a measure that allows doctors to violate patients’ confidentiality and disclose their HIV status without consent, and calls for mandatory testing for pregnant women and their partners in violation of their human rights.

“The provisions in the HIV Prevention and AIDS Control Bill are discriminatory and only deter people from accessing health services, including HIV testing,” said Moses Mulumba, Executive Director of CEHURD. “We call on the state to reconsider these provisions and promote the realization of the right to health in Uganda.” 

The Center has worked extensively in Uganda on the human rights implications of lack of access to legal abortion and modern contraceptives. In November 2013, the Center, the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law released a joint report entitled The Stakes Are High: The Tragic Impact of Unsafe Abortion and Inadequate Access to Contraception in Uganda. The report documents personal stories of women impacted by the widespread and false impression that abortion is illegal in all circumstances in Uganda— when in fact it is permitted for women with life-threatening conditions and victims of sexual assault.

In 2012, the Center launched its first research report on Uganda's laws and policies on termination of pregnancy. The report found that the laws and policies are more expansive than most believe, and Uganda has ample opportunity to increase access to safe abortion services.

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