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I have a lot to be grateful for. I grew up in a progressive society that recognized and supported universal health care. I could attend elementary and secondary school without fear of retribution. I was taught about reproduction and birth control. I could go to university and college. I could decide if and when I would marry; who I would marry; if and when I would have children. 

After establishing my career, I did have children. Each of my children was wanted. All of them were healthy at birth thanks to great maternal and prenatal care. There was enough money to pay for my children’s basic needs as well some modest luxuries like music lessons, art classes, plays and concerts.

Eighteen years ago on a Sunday, September 28 just after 6 p.m. my daughter, Cate, was born. It was a very special moment when the midwife looked into Cate’s eyes and said, “This is an old soul. She’s been here before.” Then, I was handed my beautiful baby girl with her black eyes and equally dark mop of hair. I instantly fell in love — for the fourth time. Cate is the fourth of my five children and the second of my three daughters. 

This year, September 28 is also the Global Day of Action to Decriminalize Abortion. On this day, Amnesty International activists and partners across the world will call attention to the human rights violations happening in Ireland and El Salvador.

Thanks to the selfless work of Henry Morgentaler, Canada has no legal restrictions on abortion. The Canada Health Act is entrusted with ensuring that funding and equitable access is guaranteed for abortions. While Canada has made provisions for funding, it has failed to follow through and ensure that every province and territory provides reasonable accessibility to these services. 

Canadian abortion rates have declined by at least 14 per cent since 1997, most dramatically amongst youth where there’s been a 29 per cent decline. This is not at all surprising, because it’s well documented that reproductive education along with increased access to contraception results in fewer unplanned pregnancies and as such fewer abortions.

My Body My Rights is Amnesty International’s global campaign focused on sexual and reproductive rights here at home and abroad. Kaitlyn Denzler, the Women’s Rights Campaigner at Amnesty International USA, explains the campaign is designed to educate women and girls so that they know, “everyone has the right to make decisions about their own health, body, sexuality, and reproductive life, and that we have the right to do so without fear, coercion, criminalization, or discrimination. Ultimately, the aim of the campaign is to stop the control and criminalization of sexuality and reproduction by governments and others.”

El Salvador’s total ban on abortion means women and girls cannot legally have an abortion even if they’re a child; the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest; or the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman or girl’s life.

Women who have abortions, and many who had suffered miscarriages, are charged with homicide. Currently, 17 women whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage are in prison serving up to 50 years.

The Catholic Church in El Salvador does not support sex education in schools. The church advocates for a prohibition on contraception which means this country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in South America. The total ban on abortion means there are no legal options when a girl becomes pregnant. It’s estimated that suicide accounts for 57 per cent of teen deaths in pregnancy.  

Denzler maintains that, “The role of education and equitable access to services and information cannot be trivialized when we’re talking about sexual and reproductive rights. Everyone has the right, protected under international law, to comprehensive information about sexual and reproductive health. When this right is denied, individuals are often unable to protect their health and make informed decisions about sexuality and reproduction. Access to comprehensive sexuality education is directly connected to reducing adolescent pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, and unsafe abortions.”

Common complications from unsafe abortion include incomplete abortion, excessive blood loss, and infection. Septic shock, perforation of internal organs, and inflammation of the peritoneum are less common but very serious, and even fatal, if left untreated. When total bans exist, women are afraid to seek post abortion follow-up care and that puts their health and life at risk.

It’s time for the El Salvadorian government to:

  • Provide comprehensive sexuality education.

  • Guarantee access to modern contraceptive information and services.

  • Acknowledge that miscarriage is not a crime.

  • Decriminalize abortion to ensure access to safe and legal abortion for all women and girls.

  • At a minimum, ensure access in cases of rape or incest; where the woman’s health or life is at risk; and where the fetus is unlikely to survive.

Sign and share these petitions: End the Total Ban on Abortion in El Salvador

Stand in solidarity with women imprisoned in El Salvador.

Ireland bans abortion with one exception, when a risk is posed to the woman’s life. This exception does not include a threat to the woman’s physical or mental health. In fact, under Irish law, a woman carrying a non-viable fetus must carry the pregnancy to term.

The definition of “risk” is so nebulous that it’s virtually impossible to access a legal abortion in Ireland. Having an illegal abortion could mean spending 14 years in jail or a fine of €4,000 Euros, almost $6,000 Canadian.

However, under Irish law, it is legal to travel abroad to obtain an abortion. About 4,000 Irish women and girls travel to the UK for abortions each year. But, the expense and travel involved is prohibitive for many women and girls. More importantly, this option violates the rights of women and girls to reasonable accessibility.

The 8th Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution (1983) protects the right to life of the fetus giving it equal status with the right to life of the woman. Truth is, under this amendment Irish women are forced by the state to forfeit their human rights in lieu of the rights of the fetus.

Tell the Irish government that, She is #notacriminal. Sign and share the petition to change Ireland’s abortion law.  

El Salvador and Ireland are strict Catholic countries where the church influences governmental policies and laws relating to sexual education, contraception, and abortion. According to Denzler, “no religion or tradition is an excuse to limit the rights of women.”

Today, I’m signing these petitions to ensure that all women and girls, men and boys, have access to sexual education and contraception. This will result in fewer unplanned pregnancies. That in turn will mean the need for fewer legal abortions and follow-up care. 

Please join me in supporting the Global Day of Action to Decriminalize Abortion because every woman and girl has the right to make decisions regarding her body, health, education, sexuality and reproductive life without fear of coercion, criminalization or discrimination by their religious organization, government, community, or family.  

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...