The Human Right’s Counsel of the United Nations has released it’s 2013 “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” written by Juan E. Méndez. Standing out in this report among many other discussed forms of abuse occurring under the guise of health care globally, is the concept that limiting or entirely denying access to abortions or other reproductive rights is a form of torture. The Report outlines that:
“46. International and regional human rights bodies have begun to recognize that abuse and mistreatment of women seeking reproductive health services can cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender.32 Examples of such violations include abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings;33 involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services34 such as abortion and involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services34 such as abortion and post-abortion care; forced abortions and sterilizations;35 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 report goes on to outline several cases of such abuse, discussion of other abuses in the health care systems around the world (including forced drug abuse treatments, issues for those with disabilities etc., outline marginalized groups who are particularly at risk for such systematic abuse, and offer some insights into what can be done.
Interestingly, the abortion piece seems to be making the most news, likely because it is so easily liked to religious morality issues. PolicyMic.com discusses the importance of access to reproductive care and abortion for women in a recent article:
“The importance of the report cannot be understated. In the past, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have called upon the United Nations Committee against Torture to intervene in countries such as Nicaragua where a total ban on abortion and criminalization of doctors who provide the procedure and women and girls who obtain them has been instated….Indeed, Amnesty reports that doctors and nurses are hesitant to treat extremely ill patients for fear that they may in turn harm the fetus and find themselves facing jail time. This new UN report, specifically referring to denial by the state of the right to safely terminate an unwanted pregnancy as torture or ill treatment, is promising for moving women’s rights forward globally and in hopefully reversing such dangerous bans as in Nicaragua… Moreover, the report highlights the importance of eliminating government bureaucracy in women’s health care – particularly with regards to rape survivors seeking abortion care. Throwing in boulders in the way of women’s access to health care serves no legitimate purpose but to humiliate and hinder the rights of women to obtain a basic right.“
It is good to see the UN tackling such controversial issues.
Written By Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer