Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa on the Occasion of the “Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion” 28 September, 2018


On this day, September 28, the global day of action for access to safe and legal abortion, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) through the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Justice Lucy Asuagbor, urges State Parties to take all necessary measures to protect women’s sexual and reproductive rights and ensure their access to safe and legal abortion, as set out in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).


Under the Maputo Protocol, States must “protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus”. However, many African States parties to the Protocol continue to criminalize abortion or excessively restrict women and girls’ right to access safe and legal abortion services under the conditions provided by the Maputo Protocol. In fact, abortion is still not permitted for any reason in 10 out of 54 African countries[1].


Abusive bans on abortion as well as all irrelevant barriers to access safe and legal abortion under the provisions of the Maputo Protocol do not reduce the need for interrupting unwanted or at-risk pregnancies neither does it reduce abortion rates. Unnecessary restrictions on the right to safe and legal abortion only force women and girls to seek out unsafe abortions and put their health and life at high risk.


Unsafe abortions have continued to be a serious public health issue on our continent and one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. In fact, Africa is the region with the highest number of abortion-related deaths worldwide. And young girls are particularly vulnerable: 25% of all unsafe abortions in Africa are sought out by adolescents (from 15 to 19 year old).


Criminalizing and excessively restricting the right to safe and legal abortion violates many women’s fundamental rights, including the rights to life, health, dignity, security, to be free from torture and inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment as well as the right to education, employment and to participate in the social, political and cultural life on equal terms with men.   


Victims of sexual violence are particularly affected by restrictions on the right to safe and legal abortion. The ACHPR in its Guidelines to combat sexual violence and its consequences in Africa, urges State Parties to the Maputo Protocol to adopt necessary measures to enable adult women victims of rape to choose to abort without permission from any third party. The Guidelines also recommend the creation of favorable conditions to enable and facilitate access to medical abortion for minors who are victims of sexual violence.


Since 2000, 13 Sub-Saharan African States have moved from prohibition to allowing abortion under certain circumstances for example to protect life and in cases of rape or incest. We very much welcome these initiatives and urge States Parties that have not yet done so, to amend any legislation or remove any administrative barriers to women’s and girls’ access to safe abortion services, in consonance with the ACHPR campaign to decriminalize abortion in Africa, the Maputo Plan of Action, and the Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa.


Decriminalizing abortion will reduce maternal mortality rates in Africa and enable African states meet their SDG’s goals. Criminalizing abortion is being indifferent to the plight of women and girls in Africa who go through unsafe methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies.


As we celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the entering into force of the Maputo Protocol, The ACHPR through the mechanism of the Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights’ continues to urge Member States to:


1.         Ratify the Maputo Protocol where they have not; remove reservations, including to Article 14 (2) (c);

2.         Domesticate the Maputo Protocol including by removing barriers to access such as criminal abortion laws as well as administrative barriers including third party notification or authorisation.


I urge all Member States and civil society organizations to continue supporting the ACHPR campaign on decriminalization of abortion in Africa because anti- abortion laws and policies kill women.


Decriminalize Abortion because African women and girls have a right to life and health.


Honorable Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor

Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa

28th September 2018





[1]                Guttmacher Institute, Abortion in Africa,