Make Safe Abortion Day an official UN day

‘We know from evidence that access to safe abortion saves lives – and we know exactly how to provide these services too.’

Dr Eunice Brookman-Amissah, former Health Minister of Ghana and Special Advisor to the Ipas President for African Affairs

The International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion is calling on the United Nations to make 28 September, International Safe Abortion Day, an official UN day.

In an Open Letter sent on 17 August 2016, the Campaign asked the UN Secretary-General and the heads of UN Women, UNDP, WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNESCO to “send a strong signal to the international community and to all our governments, with a simple but highly symbolic statement of support for safe abortion”.

The date 28 September was declared an international day of action for the decriminalisation of abortion in 1990 by the women’s health movement and has been celebrated annually ever since.

Sept 28 logo

In order for the date to become an official UN day, either a resolution must be tabled and passed at the UN General Assembly or one of the UN agencies must agree to designate 28 September as an official day for their agency. There are three ways you can help:

  1. Next month the UN General Assembly is due to meet from 16 September. If you know of anyone in your government who might be attending, share the Open Letter and Press Release with them and ask them to work with others to have this issue put on the agenda. Ask them to lobby senior people in the UN agencies too – including Helen Clark of UNDP and Irina Bokova of UNESCO, who are official candidates for UN Secretary-General from next year.
  2. Share the Open Letter and Press Release with your media contacts and ask them to publicise this initiative in your country. Encourage them to interview supporters of safe abortion and people in your government who may be influential in promoting this initiative or who may be attending the General Assembly.
  3. Ask your social media person to engage with the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

The call for safe abortion is fully in line with international commitments that governments have already made. These include:

  • the ICPD Programme of Action (1994);
  • Beijing Women’s Conference Platform for Action (1995);
  • regional agreements such as the Convención de Belém do Pará (1996); and
  • the Maputo Protocol (2005).

Unsafe abortion is a serious public health problem and abortions need to be made safe. International bodies are agreed on this.  The UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on Civil and Political Rights, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice (UN Working Group), and the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) – have all called for abortion to be made safe and on a growing list of grounds, also legal.

In January 2016, the ACHPR called for the decriminalisation of abortion across Africa and in April 2016 the UN Working Group also called on all States to “discontinue the use of criminal law to punish woman for ending a pregnancy”.

Yet girls and women are still suffering and dying from complications of unsafe abortion. In 2013, deaths from unsafe abortion were estimated at 43,684 globally, accounting for 14.9% of all maternal deaths. Since ICPD in 1994, almost 1 million women have died from unsafe abortions. These deaths were unnecessary and almost all   avoidable.

When carried out by trained practitioners in a hygienic environment, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. Yet half of all abortions internationally are still unsafe.