UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] on Friday urged nations affected by the Zika virus to review their laws and allow women access to contraceptive devices and abortion [press release]. The commissioner reported that the mosquito-borne Zika virus is linked to a condition involving abnormally small heads among newborns and that the number of newborns with such a condition is increasing. According to the commissioner, the virus has spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas, including areas where sexual violence is rampant. The commissioner also criticized the advice of some governments to women to delay their pregnancy stating that it “ignores the reality that many women and girls simply cannot exercise control over whether or when or under what circumstances they become pregnant, especially in an environment where sexual violence is so common.”
The debate over abortion law and women’s right of access to contraceptives has gathered a lot of international attention in recent years. In an open letter [text] released Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy websites], along with five other advocacy groups, urged [JURIST report] Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma [official website] to sign a bill that would increase women’s access to safe and legal abortion. In December 2015, In November a Northern Ireland High Court [official website] 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]. Also in November, an AI report [press release] stated that woman who suffer miscarriages or complications in the course of their pregnancy can be charged with counts of abortion or even aggravated homicide, which breeds an “atmosphere of suspicion and fear” [JURIST report] surrounding the pregnancy process. In June 2014 The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 that closely held for-profit corporations can deny coverage [JURIST report] of contraception costs because of their religious beliefs.