ICJ webinar highlights States’ international human rights obligations to decriminalize abortion and ensure access to safe and legal abortion

On the International Safe Abortion Day, the ICJ held a webinar on the decriminalization of abortion in the Philippines and the Republic of Korea.

The webinar focused on the legal provisions criminalizing abortion and on women human rights defenders’ struggle to decriminalize abortion in the Philippines and in the Republic of Korea. In addition, the participants highlighted States’ legal obligation to guarantee access to legal, safe and affordable abortion and post abortion care for all persons under international human rights law and standards.

Ms. Clara Rita A. Padilla from the Philippines’ Safe Abortion Advocacy Network; Ms. Minhee Ryu, Co-counsel in the 2019 Korean Constitutional Court case on the country’s criminal ban on abortion; and Dr. Heisoo Shin, member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) participated as speakers.

“The law imposing penalties on women who have an abortion and those assisting them only endangered the lives of women forced to seek unsafe abortion,” said Ms. Padilla. “Today, the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network introduced a draft bill, An Act Decriminalizing Induced Abortion to Save the Lives of Women, Girls, and Persons of Diverse Gender Identities, and we will continue advocating the repeal of the current discriminatory law against women and eliminate harmful stigma against women due to the restrictive abortion law and imposition of judgmental religious beliefs.”

Ms. Minhee Ryu talked about the women human rights defender’s movement in the Republic of Korea, including the work of the Joint Action for Reproductive Justice. She also highlighted the legal strategy to draw the Constitutional Court’s attention to the experience of girls, migrant women and women with disabilities in the context of the case that resulted in the Court holding that the criminalization of abortion was unconstitutional in April 2019.

“It is the core obligations of States to ensure the repeal of laws, policies and practices that criminalize, obstruct or undermine access by individuals or a particular group to sexual and reproductive health facilities and services,” said Dr. Heisoo Shin. “Denial of abortion often leads to maternal mortality and morbidity, which, in turn, constitute violations of the rights to life, dignity, autonomy, security, equality and non-discrimination, equality before the law and equal protection of the law without discrimination, privacy, physical and mental health, and the right to freedom from ill-treatment.”

The participants agreed that international human rights law and standards, such as the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 36 on the right to life, and the CESCR’s General Comment 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health, are instrumental in worldwide efforts to ensure access to legal, safe and affordable abortion and in advocating for its complete decriminalization.


Boram Jang, International Legal Adviser, e: boram.jang(a)icj.org

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