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Honduras needs progressive reform of abortion law to advance women’s human rights, say UN experts

GENEVA (28 April 2017) – Honduras must allow wider scope for legal abortions in new legislation due to be put to the country’s parliament, so that women and girls can enjoy their full human rights to sexual and reproductive health, UN experts* have urged.

A Consultative Commission in Honduras is currently finalising its opinion on a reform of the penal code which the Congress will subsequently vote in plenary in the near future.

“We sincerely hope that the Honduran Congress will seize this key opportunity to comply with its obligations to eliminating discrimination against women in its legislation, and to advance women’s and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights, in accordance with international human rights standards,” the experts said.

Abortion is currently illegal under any circumstances in Honduras. The Consultative Commission seems, at this stage, not to propose any progressive amendment which would improve national standards by allowing the termination of a pregnancy, at least, within the minimum grounds established by international standards.

“We regret that the criminalisation of abortion is maintained in the bill as a serious offence despite recommendations from the UN’s Universal Periodic Review and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as well as the Committee against Torture,” the experts stressed.

Any woman or girl found guilty of breaking the law on abortion could be jailed for up to six years.

“Denying women and girls access to safe abortion services, in cases involving health reasons, fatal impairment of the foetus and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, causes excessive and irreversible physical and psychological suffering to many women. It is also the most blatant form of instrumentalisation of women’s bodies and denial of their autonomy” they added.

“Denying access to such health services violates women’s and girls’ rights to be protected against gender-based discrimination and violence as well as torture and ill-treatment,” they said.

“We also note with grave concern that the distribution and sale of the emergency pill was banned by decree in April 2009. And we deeply regret the lack of public policies for the promotion and protection of women's sexual and reproductive rights, particularly in terms of family planning.”

Criminalising termination of pregnancy does not reduce abortion rates; on the contrary, it is likely that more women will resort to clandestine and dangerous solutions. Countries where women enjoy the right to termination of pregnancy and have access to information and all contraceptive methods are those with the lowest rates of abortion, as borne out by figures from the World Health Organization.

“Women living in poverty and social exclusion are most likely to be subject to unsafe abortions, in contravention of the State's obligation under international human rights law to respect, protect and to realize the right of women to health, including sexual and reproductive health”, the experts stated. “We hope that legislators will not let the influence of conservative and fundamentalist groups perpetuate the current legislative deadlock”, they concluded.

(*) The UN experts: Alda Facio, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dainius  Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Honduras  

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159 / barditi@ohchr.org) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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