OHCHR and UNAIDS Call for Decriminalization of Abortion
Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) along with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UNAIDS officially launched a new set of contrived legal principles which presents the view that “criminal proscription of certain conduct is not in conformity with general principles of criminal law and international human rights law,” including laws associated abortion.

“The 8 March Principles for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law Proscribing Conduct Associated with Sex, Reproduction, Drug Use, HIV, Homelessness and Poverty” is intended “to guide the application of international human rights law to criminal law” and is intended for legislators, policymakers, prosecutors, government officials, civil society organizations and more who in the words of the author “may play a critical role in mitigating the detrimental human rights impact of misapplied criminal laws.”

The controversial set of 21 legal principles calls for a new approach to laws criminalizing abortion, drug use, prostitution, and more. The report states that in recent years “the UN Secretary-General, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and global and regional human rights mechanisms, bodies and experts, as well as national courts, legislatures and domestic human rights institutions, have expressed concern about the harmful human rights impact of criminal laws proscribing conduct associated with: sexual and reproductive health and rights; consensual sexual activity; gender identity; gender expression; HIV nondisclosure, exposure and transmission; drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use; and homelessness and poverty. They have called for the removal of criminal and other punitive laws, policies and practices pertaining to some or all of the above-mentioned conduct as a critical step to protect the right to health and other human rights.”

Principle 14-Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights states an expansive view that no one “may be held criminally liable for exercising their rights to sexual and reproductive health, such as requesting, accessing or using sexual and reproductive health facilities, services and goods, including information. Criminal law may not in any way impair the right to: a) make and act on decisions about one’s own body, sexuality and reproduction – such as about pregnancy; contraception, including emergency contraception; comprehensive abortion care; prophylaxis for sexually transmitted infections; gender-affirming care/therapy; and/or b) access health facilities, services and goods, including information.”

It includes that health providers “may not be held criminally liable for conduct, such as providing contraception, abortion services or accurate, evidence-based, non-biased information, that enables others to freely exercise their rights to sexual and reproductive health, unless they engage in coercion, force, fraud, medical negligence or otherwise violate the right to free and informed decision-making.”

Principle 15-Abortion calls for the complete decriminalization of abortion stating, “Criminal law may not proscribe abortion. Abortion must be taken entirely out of the purview of the criminal law, including for having, aiding, assisting with, or providing an abortion, or abortion-related medication or services, or providing evidencebased abortion-related information. No other criminal offence, such as murder, manslaughter or any other form of unlawful homicide, may proscribe or be applied to having, aiding, assisting with, or providing an abortion, or abortion-related medication or services, or providing evidence-based abortion-related information.”

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director for the Policy, Advocacy and Knowledge Branch, Christine Stegling said, “I welcome the fact that these principles are being launched on International Women’s Day (IWD), in recognition of the detrimental effects criminal law can, and too often does have on women in all their diversity.”

“We will not end AIDS as a public health threat as long as these pernicious laws remain,” she added. “These principles will be of great use to us and our partners in our endeavors.”