The heartbreaking facts about women denied safe abortions

There is a total ban of abortion in Nicaragua ©  Amnesty International

There is a total ban of abortion in Nicaragua © Amnesty International

By Esther Major, Central America researcher at Amnesty International.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just published the results of an extensive study of induced abortion.  Its findings confirm that thousands of women and girls around the world are dying or being harmed as a consequence of being denied access to safe and legal abortion services.

The report begs the question: how can any state ignore the desperation of these women and girls and the severity of the consequences for their health and life?

Terrifyingly, their findings show an increase in women and girls suffering unsafe abortion. It seems, unbelievably, that governments are continuing to choose to withhold essential medical services, including those required to prevent permanent physical or psychological harm to – or even the death of – women or girls.

The WHO report also points out that a dearth of information and contraceptive services contributes to the number of unwanted pregnancies.

The decision to withhold this care cannot be justified; it constitutes punishment or coercion of women and girls by the state.

Some governments even go so far as to use the criminal law to enforce this denial of medical services to pregnant women and girls.

Criminalization of abortion services is discriminatory and punitive in intent and effect. The gravity of the human rights violations suffered by women and girls as a consequence of denial of access to essential care places states in clear breach of their human rights obligations.

The WHO report confirms, importantly, that there is no correlation between restrictive abortion laws and lower rates of abortion – in fact, quite the opposite.

The WHO data confirms that where safe and legal abortions are completely unavailable, some women and girls inevitably resort to self-induced or back street abortions.

Women and girls who are terrified, ashamed and desperate make the painful decision to take poison, probe their bodies with a wire or other sharp object, or seek the assistance of unqualified persons in unhygienic conditions, in order to terminate the pregnancy.

Many will be left infertile or disabled. Some will die as a consequence of their injuries.
Why should any woman or girl be deprived of her dignity and compelled to take such desperate action?

In 2009 I interviewed 13-year-old Rosmery in Managua, Nicaragua. Rosmery was just 12 years old when she became pregnant after repeated rape at the hands of a relative.

There is a total ban of abortion in Nicaragua, even if a girl is pregnant as a consequence of sexual violence, or her life is at risk if she continues with the pregnancy.

Rosmery just wanted to stay in school, be like the other girls her age and try her best to not allow the rape to become the event which defined the rest of her life. Her mum found a qualified professional to carry out the procedure in a clandestine, but clean and safe environment.

Rosmery and her mother told me of how they constantly worried at the possibility that someone might find out or press criminal charges against Rosmery and those who assisted her. The fact that it was criminalised added to the stigma Rosmery already felt.

Why should a victim of rape like Rosmery be made to feel like a criminal for lessening the consequences of the crime she suffered?

By putting laws in place which restrict access to safe and legal abortion services, the state tells girls and women that they are not entitled to life and health-saving treatment on an equal basis with those requiring such treatment in other circumstances.

The WHO report concludes that “Death due to unsafe abortion remains an important and avoidable occurrence as do the health and social and economic consequences of unsafe abortion.”

The fact that these deaths and injuries suffered by thousands of women and girls worldwide are completely avoidable is heartbreaking.

I come back to my original question: how can any state ignore the desperation of these women and girls and the severity of the consequences for their health and life?

Posted in International Organizations | 9 Comments

  1. galerouth says:



    NO HUMAN has a right to life or any due process rights by the 14th amendment to use another human’s body or body parts AGAINST their will, civil and constitutional rights: that’s why you are not forced to donate your kidney—the human fetus is no exception; this is supported by the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, which makes reproductive slavery unconstitutional.

    consensual sex=/= a legal, binding contract to an unwanted fetus to live.

  2. thomas treppenhauer says:

    Dear Esther Major,
    Yes, facts about women and girls who find themselves in a situation in which abortion seems the only solution are heartbreaking. But a safe abortion should not be the only solution for pregnant girls and women in great difficulty. Many girls and women who opt for an abortion wouldn’t do so, if they had enough money, enough encouragement from their environment, a safe place where they could bring up their child, the possibility to bring up a child and go to school at the same time and if there was no stigma when they choose to carry out a pregnancy that resulted from rape.
    Kind regards,
    Thomas Treppenhauer

  3. Diane Shears says:

    The ban on abortion in Nicaragua amounts to institutionalized torture and death for female victims of sexual violence and poverty. From a moral standpoint, the ban in itself constitutes a criminal action against Nicaragua’s female citizens.

  4. Alicia Whitbeck says:

    While I certainly see the point you are trying to make, I cannot see how it is a human rights violation to deny abortions. It is very unfortunate that women find themselves in positions where the feel the need to have an abortion, but abortion is not the only answer to those problems. Since when does two wrongs make a right? Because a woman is raped, that gives her the right to murder an innocent child? Aren’t fetuses humans too and deserve rights like everyone else? Instead of focusing on legalizing abortions, we need to focus on finding ways to help support the women who are found in these situations by providing shelter, emotional support, and help with deciding to raise the child or give it up for adoption. Murder is never the answer.

    • Stella Rún Guðmundsdóttir says:

      Alicia Whitbeck,
      to have to raise a child that you never wanted, by a man that you despise – the result of an act you try and try but can never forget. To be twelve years old and to be hurt like that – physically, mentally – and now the result is growing in you, slowly, like a reminder. To be labelled a whore by your society, for something that was done to you. As if you were the criminal.
      A fetus is not a child. Unregarded of your religious views, a fetus is not a child. A child is a child. Alicia, I hope you had a good childhood. I hope you never had to expericence anything remotely as horrific as that. But if you had, maybe you would understand. If your little girl was that little girl, maybe you would understand. But you don’t. Girls like Rosmery deserve more then a shelter just so they can get by. They deserve a childhood. They deserve a future.
      I hate to say, but people like you are the problem. People that sit at home in their comfy chairs with a computer and feel like they have a right to judge the acts of this girl and her mother. Judge the desperate need of all the women out there that have been raped and as a result, have become pregnant. During pregnancy and giving birth, many of them have died. THAT, Alicia, is a murder. A murder commited by the society and by people who think like you.

  5. Jules Simpson says:

    The ban on abortion in Nicaragua is not much different than the intentions of the Republican presidential candidates here in the US. They have all agreed to support personhood amendments in the individual states which would effectively ban the majority of effective methods of contraception as well. Access to contraception and the right to choose are essential to equal rights for women everywhere. No one favors more abortions, but forcing a woman to give birth or to find unsafe and illegal means to abort is a supreme abuse of power. IT is never an easy decision but it belongs to the individual who must live with the consequences.

  6. Justin says:

    “…they constantly worried at the possibility that someone might find out or press criminal charges…” Is it really that big of a deal over there? This article makes it sound like they’re trying to get away with bank robbery… Does the WHO have the power to preform the procedure independently of the Nicaraguan government?

  7. ryan r says:

    @Diane… I agree, its like another way of control and keeping women under thumb.

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