Protecting safe abortion in humanitarian settings: overcoming legal and policy barriers

Women and girls are increasingly the direct and targeted victims of armed conflict and studies show that they are disproportionately and differentially affected.

However, humanitarian laws, policies, and protocols have yet to be meaningfully interpreted and adapted to respond to their specific needs, including to sexual and reproductive health services and rights. In particular, safe abortion services are routinely omitted from sexual and reproductive health services in humanitarian settings for a variety of reasons, including improper deference to national law, the disproportionate influence of restrictive funding policies, and the failure to treat abortion as medical care. However, properly construed, abortion services fall within the purview of the universal and non-derogable protections granted under international humanitarian and human rights law.

This commentary considers the protections of international humanitarian law and explains how abortion services fall within a category of protected medical care. It then outlines contemporary challenges affecting the realisation of these rights. Finally, it proposes a unification of current approaches through the use of international humanitarian law to ensure comprehensive care for those affected by armed conflict.

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