IACHR Expresses Concern Over the Adoption of Regressive Measures Concerning Sexual and Reproductive Rights in the Americas

August 11, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern regarding initiatives to issue decrees, public policies, and legislation that create obstacles to the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights in the Americas. The IACHR drew particular attention to initiatives seeking to restrict the termination of pregnancies outright and limitations to comprehensive sex or gender education for women, girls, adolescents, and other people who are capable of becoming pregnant.

It has received information regarding the adoption of reform bills that restrict access to pregnancy termination, including in cases of rape, incest, danger to the life of the pregnant woman or person in question, and obstetric emergencies. This has led to the criminalization and persecution of women and people who may become pregnant and of defenders of sexual and reproductive rights who advocate for access to sexual and reproductive health care services.

The IACHR has also learned of measures that seek to prohibit the inclusion of comprehensive sex education and a gender perspective in educational institution programs or curricula. In this regard, the IACHR recalled that access to comprehensive sex education is fundamental to advancing women's reproductive autonomy and preventing unwanted pregnancies, particularly among girls and adolescents. Consequently, the absence of comprehensive sex education violates the sexual and reproductive health rights of girls, women, adolescents, and people who are capable of becoming pregnant.

This is of particular concern to the IACHR due to the rising levels of sexual violence against women, girls, and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic, which, combined with the lack of access to contraceptive methods and comprehensive sexual education, could result in an increase in unwanted pregnancies, especially among girls and adolescents. Furthermore, the IACHR noted that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures, access to sexual and reproductive health facilities, goods, and services has been restricted.

In this regard, the IACHR once again observed that it is States' duty to eliminate all legal and de facto obstacles that impede access to any sexual and reproductive health services required on the basis of sex/gender and reproductive capacity, taking into consideration the particular risk, lack of protection, and vulnerability experienced by girls and adolescents and by women in particularly marginal situations.

It also underscores that the absolute criminalization of the termination of pregnancies, including in cases where there is a risk to the life of the pregnant person and where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, places a disproportionate burden on the exercise of rights, especially the rights of women, girls, and adolescents, creating a context that facilitates unsafe abortions and high mortality rates.

In this regard, the IACHR emphasized that the increase in sexual violence in the Americas during the COVID-19 pandemic requires the provision of comprehensive healthcare for women survivors, including psychological care, emergency contraception, and the voluntary termination of pregnancy, when applicable. They also needs to be full access to sexual and reproductive health services with a gender and intersectional approach, including access to accurate information and the comprehensive sex education that women, girls, and adolescents need to make free and informed decisions.

At the same time, the IACHR welcomed some measures that have been adopted in the region that contribute to the full enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights. For example, the IACHR learnt of legislative reforms in Argentina and two federal entities in Mexico, which recognize women's right to terminate a pregnancy of up to 14 weeks in Argentina, and 12 weeks in the Mexican states in question, after which point legal abortion remains available when the pregnancy is the result of rape and/or when the woman's life or health is in danger. These legislative measures also recognize the right of women, girls, and adolescents to receive post-abortion medical care from health services, and to receive information, comprehensive sex education, and access to effective contraceptive methods. It should be noted that the State of Argentina also recognizes these rights for pregnant people of all genders.

Furthermore, the IACHR took note of the judicial decision adopted in Ecuador, which provides for the adoption of a law regulating the voluntary interruption of pregnancy in cases of rape, observing that the State provides post-abortion medical care and facilitates access to contraceptive methods, including for the adolescent population. In the same vein, the IACHR also drew attention to the legislative measures in place in the States of Barbados and Guyana to guarantee access to medical care for the legal termination of pregnancy, in cases of danger to the life or physical and mental health of the woman, as well as in cases of rape and incest, among other grounds.

All the same, the IACHR noted that States are obliged to adopt measures that are compatible with the American Convention on Human Rights and other regional protection instruments. In this regard, the IACHR urged States to refrain from adopting regressive measures that hinder the exercise of the sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls, adolescents, and people who are capable of becoming pregnant, to do so under conditions of equality, and to refrain from criminalizing human rights defenders working in favor of these rights. Specifically, the IACHR called on States in the region that do not yet have an adequate regulatory frameworks to adopt legislation that is compatible with inter-American standards for the protection and guarantee of the sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls, adolescents, and people who are capable of becoming pregnant, recognizing that denying the voluntary termination of pregnancy in certain circumstances constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights, especially the rights to life, personal integrity, health, and women's right of women to live a life free of violence and discrimination, broadly speaking.

The IACHR also urged States to adopt legislative measures, public policies, and any other measures needed to guarantee, without discrimination, the availability, accessibility, relevance, and quality of sexual and reproductive health facilities, goods, and services, including access to information and comprehensive sex education, with an intersectional and gender-based approach. Finally, the IACHR called on States to adopt comprehensive measures to respect and guarantee these rights through the provision of facilities, goods, services, and information on sexual and reproductive health, as well as comprehensive sex education with a gender perspective so that women, girls, adolescents and people who are capable of becoming pregnant can make free, autonomous decisions.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 208/21

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