ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

Nov 13 2017

Prepared by International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion 

On 14 July 2015, during its 114th session, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) commenced the process of drafting a General Comment on the right to life, to revise the existing General Comment at Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They called for submissions on the views of national human rights institutions, non-governmental organisations, and academia. The summary of what took place can be found at this link and here the over 100 submissions they received. During its 115th session, the Committee commenced its first reading of the draft text.

The HRC then completed its review and revision of the draft text at its 120th session in July 2017, published it on its website – Draft General Comment on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Right to life – and invited all interested stakeholders to comment on the new draft by 6 October 2017. This time around, they received some 166 submissions including from some 23 states, most of them in the global north; 7 UN agencies, specialized bodies and experts; 33 academic and other professionals; 3 national human rights and other institutions; and over 100 NGOs. These submissions can be found here.

Of the 71 paragraphs in the July 2017 version of the draft General Comment, only Paragraph 9 is directly about abortion. Yet, a great many submissions from NGOs were anti-abortion and many others from abortion rights advocates, as was the case in the previous round.

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Nov 09 2017

A group of extremist MPs, mainly from the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) and Kukiz’15, submitted a motion challenging the constitutionality of one of the cases, which allows for abortion according to The Family Planning, Human Embryo Protection and Conditions of Permissibility of Abortion Act. MPs claim that the right to abortion in case of a severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’s life interferes with other constitutional values respect and protection of human dignity, the legal protection of the life of every human being. They also argue that this provision discriminates against foetuses on the grounds of their health status. 

The Great Coalition for Equality and Choice, gathering nearly 1000 NGOs and grassroots movements, harshly criticized this motion as it expresses contempt for women and forces them to carry and give birth to offspring with no chances of survival, and then to observe their agony in suffering. The Coalition also stressed that the Constitution clearly recognizes rights to which women as citizens are entitled: legal protection of the private and family life, freedom of conscience and religion and health care. There are no references to “foetuses”, “life at conception” or “unborn children”. On the contrary, the Constitution does not equate foetal life with a legal status of a born person, but it does lay down special care for pregnant women. 

100 MPs, with assistance of the PiS-controlled Tribunal, want to decide about the majority of the Polish society, which advocates for the liberalization of the anti-abortion act (as illustrated by to the latest opinion polls). Their move also infringes in democratic procedures and shows disrespect for 500 000 pro-choice people who signed citizens’ initiative for women’s rights and conscious parenthood, which was drafted by the “Save Women” Civic Committee.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning 

Nov 08 2017

On 15th November 2017, AWID, as part of the Observatory on the Universality of Rights (OURs), is providing a platform for feminist activists and women's rights advocates, partners and allies to discuss the state of anti-rights organizing and ways forward for the collective resistance.

Join AWID and OURs on Wednesday, 15th November from 10am EST to 12pm EST in a conversation to discuss:

  • Who is behind these attacks on the universality of rights?
  • Which of their strategies have been successful in making inroads into UN systems, and what effects has this already had?
  • What is the link between attacks on the universality of rights at the UN and the rise of ultra-conservative forces locally and regionally?
  • How are feminists and human rights advocates resisting already, and how can we strengthen our collective push-back?

Registration deadline is 14 November 2017. Spaces are limited and access to the session will be given on a first come first served basis.

For conversion of EST time, to other time zones, please visit Time and Date. Please note: This webinar will be held in English.

In the meantime and during the webinar, tweet your thoughts on the above questions by using the hashtag #RightsAtRisk

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Nov 03 2017

The Women’s Resource Center carried out research in September and October to examine whether women in rural communities can access their right to legal and safe abortions and whether they face any obstacles in reaching those services. Representatives of the organisation visited five rural communities and interviewed 50 rural women using focus groups and carried out 5 in-depth interviews.

Though Armenian legislation gives women the right to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, many women in Armenia, especially those already marginalized, face obstacles to accessing safe abortion facilities. The amendment to the Law on Human Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights introduced in August 2016, prohibits sex-selective abortions, introduces counselling, as well as a three day period of reflection before the final decision is made on the request for a termination, and defines procedures for medical staff acting against this legislation. Under the guise of ‘’protection of girls from sex selective abortion’’, state policy is in reality trying to address the increase in overall number of abortions in Armenia. This pro-natality policy is also reflected in the State strategy on reproductive health, which highlights the danger of abortion to demographic growth. The issue of sex-selective abortion is used as an excuse for more general restrictions on abortion.

Women in rural areas cannot exercise their legal rights in the area of reproductive health. These women have to travel a long distance to be able to access facilities where they can obtain a termination of their pregnancy. The biggest challenge is money: many women’s monthly salary (appr. $100) does not allow them to afford abortion in the hospitals, leading them to  attempt it in the home, using pills as a method and without proper consultation with a specialist. There have been cases when women had health issues as a result of using those pills without correct medical advice. In some villages there is a grandmother figure, a former nurse, who carries out abortions. The Ministry of Health prohibited the sale of the required medicine without prescription, however many rural pharmacies still sell it for a price which is smaller than $1. Financially, it is easier for many rural women to access unregulated and potentially unsafe abortions in their home village, instead of travelling to clinics with trained medical staff.

Women visiting the doctor requesting an abortion sometimes experience doctors who try to convince women not to go through with the procedure. In medical institutions, there are many posters dedicated to sex-selective abortion which influence  women who are seeking an abortion but not because of the sex of the child. Again we are seeing the issue of sex-selective abortion being used to dissuade women from abortion for any reason.

In addition to the above obstacles to access to safe abortion, we were told of other factors which impact on whether a woman has an abortion. In many cases, women told us that the final decision on whether they have an abortion is not made by a women themselves, but usually by their spouse and mother-in-law. There is also a lack of awareness about contraceptive methods, which leads many women to use abortion as a way to deal with unwanted pregnancies following not using contraception earlier.

Source: Women's Resource Center 

Oct 30 2017

The ongoing battle around fundamental reproductive rights in Poland becomes even more fierce. Government’s attempts to criminalize abortions and make one of the toughest anti-abortion laws even stricter are expressed in its statement delivered to the Human Rights Committee.

Polish non-governmental organizations are deeply concerned about the official remarks to the General Comment No 36 on article 6of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning the right to life. The General Comments refers to various aspects related to the right to life - from abortion and euthanasia to suicide to capital punishment and genocide. It clarifies how States that have ratified the Covenant are supposed to protect this right. Only two paragraphs – out of 22 pages – pertain to abortion by imposing the duty to provide access to abortion in case of rape, incest and fetal impairment. The document also underlines that “any legal restriction on the ability of women to seek abortion must not, inter alia, jeopardize their life or subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering which violates article 7”.

Poland’s amendments rely on the assumption that human life begins at conception so as to restrict the right to abortion and deem euthanasia illegal.

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