The Denial, Witholding and Obstruction of Access to Reproductive Health Services, including Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, is Violence Against Women


Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights* (WGNRR) briefing paper for the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 


Violence against women constitutes “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” And that it includes “physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State” (A/RES/48/104, article 1 and 2 C)) 

States parties have committed to the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls in all their spheres of their lives (E/CN.6/2013/3 paras.3, 4, E/CN.6/2013/4 para.4, Beijing Declaration and Platform Action), recognising that violence against women “violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms”, - including their sexual and reproductive rights- and “[it] is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men. (Beijing Declaration and Platform Action paras.112 and 117). 
In this sense, violence against women also constitute systematic denial, withholding and obstruction of access to reproductive health services, including access to safe and legal abortion because of its detrimental effect on the lives of women and girls. This type of violence is structural or institutional violence. 

Violence against women perpetuated by the State through law and policy

·         Institutional violence against women occurs when women are forced by restrictive abortion laws to carry to term a pregnancy that puts their health and life at risk, or when pregnancy is a result of other types of gender-based violence, such as rape and/or incest(CCPR/CO/80/COL (2004); CCPR/CO/75/GBM (2004))

·         As a result, women and girls are subjected to traumatic, stressful, frightening, and life-threatening conditions. Consequences of this violence includes serious impact on women’s mental and physical health and in some cases; the loss of their lives. (CAT/C/PER/CO/4 (2006), CCPR/CO/70/ARG (2000) para. 14;)

·         According to the international community, these actions and its consequences constitute an act of torture and inhumane treatment. This particularly concerns countries that prohibit abortion on all grounds. (CAT/C/PER/CO/ (2006), para 23, HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9 (Vol. I) (2008) ch.II, para 5 at 200, CAT/C/NIC/CO/1 (2009) para. 16, CCPR/CO/70/PE (2000) para. 20  CCPR/C/101/D/1608/2007 (2011) para. 9.2,)

·         States parties are obliged to eliminate violence against women whose effects can constitutes acts of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international and regional human rights law (CEDAW article 16; Maputo Protocol article 12; CAT article 1 and 2).

Violence against women due to denial of access to services

·         When access to safe abortion is legal but services are made inaccessible for women and girls because of health personnel own beliefs also constitutes violence against women due the effects of the denial of the services in women’s lives. 

·         The same occurs when the State imposes restrictive conditions on access to abortion services such as parental consent for young unmarried women or spousal consent of married women, putting them in a position of dependence on their parents or spouses. These acts also constitute a violation of women’s right to autonomy and self-determination while inflicting psychological damage and mental suffering.

·         Women seeking an abortion or post-abortion care in restrictive settings are subject to psychological violence. Such psychological violence includes but is not limited to: threats of harm and intimidation, withholding medical care, and inhuman and degrading treatment.

·         Institutionalised violence also occurs when the State fails to eliminate discrimination against women in health care; in order to ensure on the basis of equality of men and women; access to health care services, including those related to family planning (CEDAW article 12).

·        States failing to provide remedies or measures to mitigate the physical or physiological harm associated with restrictive access to abortion services actually tolerate, perpetuate, and sanction violence against women.

*      The restrictive abortion laws accompanied by the institutional violence of the State infringes on women’s human dignity by restricting freedoms to which individuals are entitled under the right to health, particularly with respect to decision-making and bodily integrity.

Thus, the theme of Violence Against Women at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) must include recognition of, and recommendations to address violence against women related to the denial, restriction or obstruction of access to reproductive health services such safe abortion services, in accordance with the Beijing Platform and Action Plan, International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, and UN human rights treaties.



*WGNRR is in special consultative status with ECOSOC. WGNRR represents over 1000 organizations and individuals from 73 countries working towards the fulfillment of sexual and reproductive rights of all, with a specific focus on the rights of women and girls.

CSW Parallel event: “How to break the cycle of denying young women’s access to youth-friendly SRHR services?”

Ensuring SRHR in the Post-2015 Development Framework

11 March 2013, 2:30 PM at Church Center for the UN, 777 United Nations Plaza New York, 10th Floor.