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UN and African experts urge Sierra Leone’s President to save millions of women’s lives by signing the 2015 Safe Abortion Bill

Decriminalising abortion

28 January 2016

GENEVA (28 January 2016) – A group of United Nations and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Commission human rights experts* today urge the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, to sign the 2015 Safe Abortion Bill for it to enter into force without further delay. They warned that reluctance towards the decriminalization of abortion by some parties, including religious organizations, has resulted in delays in signing the Bill, as the President sent it back to Parliament for reconsideration.

The 2015 Safe Abortion Bill, passed by Parliament last December, is aimed at ensuring women’s and adolescents’ access to safe services regarding abortion and authorizes the termination of a pregnancy under any circumstances up to 12 weeks and in cases of incest, rape, fetal impairment as well as when the woman’s health is at risk, up to 24 weeks.

“Sierra Leone has a great opportunity to save hundreds of women’s and adolescents’ lives by adopting the bill,” they said. “This bill is a cornerstone legislation to advance women’s and adolescents’ right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights in a country where maternal mortality rates are one of the highest in the world.”

According to the World Health Organization, Sierra Leone had a maternal mortality ratio of 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, despite a reduction of 48.3% of maternal-related deaths since 1990. These deaths are significantly due to unsafe abortions and the lack of access to lifesaving treatments. Denial of safe abortions and reproductive health services can also cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender.

“By adopting the bill, Sierra Leone would become one of the leading African nations to take effective measures to reduce maternal mortality and reaffirm women’s human rights,” the experts said noting that the ACHPR has just launched, on 18 January 2016, a campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in Africa**.

The UN and ACHPR independent experts also called on Sierra Leone “to respect its obligations under international and regional human rights law by ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, including maternal health care and access to all methods of contraception.” 

(*) The UN experts: Eleonora Zielinska, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; the ACHPR expert: Lucy Asuagbor, Special Rapporteur on the rights of women

Restrictive abortion laws do not reduce the number of abortions, according to the World Health Organization. Instead, they force women to seek clandestine and unsafe abortions, which jeopardise their lives and their health. Unsafe abortion accounts for about 13% of maternal mortality globally. In some countries, the percentage of maternal deaths resulting from unsafe abortion is much higher, accounting for up to 30%. Maternal mortality violates the rights to life, health, equality and non-discrimination. In the framework of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, States committed to reduce greatly the number of deaths and morbidity from unsafe abortion.

Check the statement made by ACHPR Commissioner Asuagbor, Special Rapporteur on the rights of women and the press release on the launch of ACHPR Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Africa.

The UN 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, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council 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. Learn more, log on to:

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Sierra Leone:

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