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Submission to UN Special Rapporteur on Health — Abortion and Violence

The following is responding specifically to question 2 regarding how the legal framework defines, punishes, and provides redress for the relevant types of violence.

Denial of abortion is deeply entwined with violence as everything from risk factor to lack of redress. Indeed, the denial of abortion is itself a form of structural violence. Additionally, access to abortion bears a cyclical relationship with direct violence. Lack of access places people at greater risk for violence. Meanwhile, experiencing direct violence often increases the need and demand for abortion services. This is especially true in situations of conflict and mass violence.

This section outlines the international standards to which any State must adhere in the context of mass or systemic sexual and gender-based violence (“SGBV”). They establish a minimum framework to actively ensure the right to health.

Access to abortion is necessary to meaningfully redress and prevent SGBV

The denial of abortion is an act of structural violence. It strips pregnant people of their rights, can cause severe physical and psychological harm, and prevents them from meeting their basic needs for healthcare. It is also inextricably linked to direct forms of SGBV, as both an outcome and a driver. There is an implicit logic that an increase in forced sex would yield an increase in unwanted pregnancies and demand for abortion access. Individually, denial of abortion reduces economic stability and independence, leaving people vulnerable to exploitation. Denial of abortion is also a form of discrimination and inequality, which are both root causes of societal instability, mass violence, and violence against women.

A primary goal of international law is to avoid irreparable harm and to “restore the victim to the original situation before the gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law occurred.” Forcing a person to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term resulting from SGBV denies them restitution for that harm. The Secretary-General’s Guidance Note on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence recommends access to safe abortion services as an administrative reparation program to respond to the immediate needs of survivors, particularly in the context of conflict and widespread violence. Repairing harm is a baseline, but reparations “cannot simply be about returning them to where they were before the individual instance of violence, but instead should strive to have a transformative potential.” Justice and accountability also bear a role in prevention, including through guarantees of non-repetition. Among other necessary measures, legislation is required to provide people who become pregnant as a result of rape, with the choice of safe and legal abortion.

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