• Description

Over the past few decades, there has been mounting consensus within the international human rights and public health communities that restrictive abortion laws violate a range of fundamental human rights and are detrimental to individuals' health and well-being. Indeed, human rights bodies have taken steadily more progressive stances on abortion, and global public health entities also increasingly recognize that abortion is a public health need. Centering sexual and reproductive health and rights, and abortion specifically, in discussions of strengthening health systems presents opportunities to expand support for abortion rights. This article integrates evidence from three perspectives—demographic, health and legal—to present arguments for the liberalization of abortion laws that are more compelling than each perspective alone. Drawing on human rights law and updated evidence on abortion, the article demonstrates that the criminalization of abortion creates significant barriers to accessing legal abortion services by generating stigma, failing to guarantee patients' confidentiality, and disproportionally impacting marginalized and rural communities. To guarantee access to abortion services free from stigma, and in accordance with human rights, states must remove all abortion provisions from the penal code and incorporate abortion regulations within health codes, as done for other medical procedures. Both full decriminalization of abortion and health system policy reforms, with a particular emphasis on reaching vulnerable groups, are essential for all people to fully realize their right to make autonomous reproductive health decisions and to have access to the information and services necessary to achieve this right free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.