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Celebrating Human Rights Day: Abortion Rights are Human Rights!

8th December 2023

Authored by Memory Zonde-Kachambwa and Sonali Silva, SheDecides Guiding Group Co-Chairs

Every year on the 10 December, human rights activists around the globe celebrate Human Rights Day.

This year is especially important as we mark the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) - a torchlight for the human rights movement to follow and a reference point for individuals and advocates to go to when their rights have been denied.

This year's theme for Human Rights Day is “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.”

As a global movement working to advance bodily autonomy for all people everywhere, dignity, freedom, and justice speak to the heart of what we do;

  • Dignity: the right to make the most fundamental of decisions about our bodies, life, and future. So that no one is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or suffer the consequences of being forced to seek unsafe methods to end their pregnancy. 
  • Freedom: to be free to choose what is best for our own reproductive matters in privacy, as a basic prerequisite for bodily autonomy. 
  • Justice: ensuring all people have access to healthcare including safe abortion services, and being able and access that healthcare without discrimination, fear or punishment.

At SheDecides we believe that the foundation of a fair, just and equal world for women and girls - in all their diversities - is the right to decide about their own bodies. When we have bodily autonomy, we have the power and freedom to make decisions about our well-being, our futures, and life as we choose.

Access to safe abortion is a vital component of bodily autonomy and is protected in the UDHR under the principles of the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to dignity, and the right to non-discrimination amongst others.

Being able to access quality healthcare including safe abortion care is a human right that belongs to all people, regardless of where you live in the world, how old you are, or your financial or social status. When states limit or ban access to abortion, they are denying citizens access to essential healthcare and are putting the lives of pregnant people at risk. The statistics speak for themselves - unsafe abortion remains a leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide. Yet deaths due to unsafe abortion are entirely preventable.

Abortion rights are a social justice issue. Where abortion is restricted, it is often those in poverty and/or marginalized groups that are most impacted. Without safe access to reproductive healthcare, women are systematically denied other rights, often pushed deeper into poverty, and are at greater risk of gender-based violence.

In today's political climate, it’s more important than ever to stand united in support of abortion rights as human rights. The fundamental principles of the UDHR, the right to health, privacy, and dignity are at risk of being rolled back. We see growing attacks on bodily autonomy and abortion rights across the globe. From the protesters who stand outside clinics intimidating and harassing those seeking or delivering health services to anti-choice groups working to spread disinformation and fear, hard-fought rights and lifesaving services are under threat.

But the evidence is clear: access to safe abortion saves lives. And it is not just human rights organizations and human rights lawyers that agree that abortion rights are human rights. Leading health bodies including the World Health Organisation have repeatedly called on governments to decriminalize abortion in a bid to protect health and save lives.

On this Human Rights Day, we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to advocating for abortion rights, recognizing it as a fundamental aspect of individual autonomy and healthcare. As we champion this vital cause, we also acknowledge the universality of human rights which are under threat across the globe. We stand in solidarity with brave human rights defenders, who risk their lives every day to fight injustice and strengthen democracy. And we extend our solidarity to civilians in Gaza, whose human rights are being violated - including the right to healthcare, and to all people and communities who are having their rights infringed in conflict & humanitarian contexts. Our dedication to these causes reflects our broader commitment to upholding human dignity and justice for all.

And as SheDecides Champions we commit to defending this vital human rights framework, re-affirming the right to healthcare, privacy, and bodily autonomy – as central to realising a world that is better, stronger and safer for all. Without question.