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Human rights groups urge Sierra Leone president to sign abortion bill

[JURIST] In an open letter [text] released Thursday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International [advocacy websites], along with five other advocacy groups, urged Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma [official website] to sign a bill that would increase women's access to safe and legal abortion. The Safe Abortion Act of 2015, passed [Reuters report] with broad support in parliament [official site] in December would repeal the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 [official summary], which only allows for abortion when the the mother's health is at risk. The advocacy groups contend that this criminalization of abortion access has created an issue of women seeking out abortion from ill-equipped providers who may create short- and long-term health problems for their clients.

The restrictions to safe and legal abortion under the current law undermine several rights of women and girls protected under international human rights law, including the rights to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, life, non-discrimination, privacy, physical integrity, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.International human rights law and authoritative interpretations conclude that women have a right to decide independently in all matters related to reproduction, including abortion. International human rights law is clear that abortion must be available to all women and girls at a minimum in cases of rape and incest, when the health or life of a woman or girl is at risk, and in cases of severe or fatal fetal impairment.

The groups also called on Koroma to ensure that children have access to safe and confidential medical care without parental consent, especially in the instances where young girls are seeking abortion-related services.

Abortion access and reproductive healthcare [JURIST backgrounder] remain contentious issues worldwide. The High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland [official website] in November ruled [judgment] that Northern Ireland's abortion laws, which only allow abortion when the mother faces the risk of death or serious injury, is a violation of human rights [JURIST report]. ] El Salvador's complete ban on abortion [text, PDF, in Spanish] negatively affects [JURIST report] not only women and girls, but also their families, according to an Amnesty International report [press release] released the same month. A Dominican court in December blocked [JURIST report] a new law that would have decriminalized abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk, thus reinstating a total ban on abortion within the country. A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana [official website] ruled [opnion, PDF] in January that part of an abortion law requiring hospital admitting privileges for doctors who provide abortions is unconstitutional [JURIST report].

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