Statement: Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice

UN and African experts urge Sierra Leone’s President to save millions of women’s lives by signing the 2015 Safe Abortion Bill

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UN Working Group

GENEVA (28 January 2016) – A group of United Nations and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Commission human rights experts* today urge the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, to sign the 2015 Safe Abortion Bill for it to enter into force without further delay. They warned that reluctance towards the decriminalization of abortion by some parties, including religious organizations, has resulted in delays in signing the Bill, as the President sent it back to Parliament for reconsideration.

The 2015 Safe Abortion Bill, passed by Parliament last December, is aimed at ensuring women’s and adolescents’ access to safe services regarding abortion and authorizes the termination of a pregnancy under any circumstances up to 12 weeks and in cases of incest, rape, fetal impairment as well as when the woman’s health is at risk, up to 24 weeks.

“Sierra Leone has a great opportunity to save hundreds of women’s and adolescents’ lives by adopting the bill,” they said. “This bill is a cornerstone legislation to advance women’s and adolescents’ right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights in a country where maternal mortality rates are one of the highest in the world.”

According to the World Health Organization, Sierra Leone had a maternal mortality ratio of 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, despite a reduction of 48.3% of maternal-related deaths since 1990. These deaths are significantly due to unsafe abortions and the lack of access to lifesaving treatments. Denial of safe abortions and reproductive health services can also cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender.

“By adopting the bill, Sierra Leone would become one of the leading African nations to take effective measures to reduce maternal mortality and reaffirm women’s human rights,” the experts said noting that the ACHPR has just launched, on 18 January 2016, a campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in Africa**.

The UN and ACHPR independent experts also called on Sierra Leone “to respect its obligations under international and regional human rights law by ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, including maternal health care and access to all methods of contraception.”

(*) The UN experts: Eleonora Zielinska, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; the ACHPR expert: Lucy Asuagbor, Special Rapporteur on the rights of women