Women’s bodily integrity: linking criminalisation of abortion and criminalisation of HIV

The Lancet Global Health Blog - On Sept 28, was the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. This day was declared by the women’s health movement in 1990, and attention to the lack of access to safe and legal abortion has remained at the forefront of debate worldwide. (Blog by Susana T Fried a Visiting Fellow at the Yale University Global Health Justice Partnership.)

From attempts to deny access in the US state of Texas to the pressing need for abortion reform in Zika-affected countries, the urgency to decriminalise abortion, and remove the stigma associated with it, is fundamental to women’s rights and women’s health globally.

To force women to have children they do not wish to have is a form of violence against women. Similarly, there are strong linkages between HIV and violence and more broadly to the denial of women’s control over their bodies. Lack of access to quality sexual and reproductive health and lack of ability to exercise rights, mixed with gender inequality, stigma, and discrimination, plague women living with and at risk of HIV as well as women with unwanted pregnancies. Today, despite decades of advances in treatment, care, and support, HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age in the developing world. Maternal death is the second biggest killer of such women. Complications related to pregnancy and childbearing among 15-19-year-old young women, including from an estimated 3 million unsafe abortions each year, contribute significantly to maternal mortality and morbidity.

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