GENEVA, March 25, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – A recent United Nations report on torture and mistreatment in health care systems around the world singled out lack of access to abortion as a form of “torture,” classifying it as a human rights violation on par with female genital mutilation, forced sterilizations and state-sanctioned beatings.
The report also says governments should recognize the preferred sex of ‘transgender’ individuals without regard to biology, arguing that forcing such people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery in order to prove their case is equivalent to torture.
“In many countries, transgender persons are required to undergo often unwanted sterilization surgeries as a prerequisite to enjoy legal recognition of their preferred gender,” the report stated. “In Europe, 29 States require sterilization procedures to recognize the legal gender of transgender persons. … As at 2008, in the United States of America, 20 states required a transgender person to undergo ‘gender-confirming surgery’ or ‘gender reassignment surgery’ before being able to change their legal sex. In Canada, only the province of Ontario does not enforce “transsexual surgery” in order to rectify the recorded sex on birth certificates.”
The report calls for the “elimination of homophobia” in health care settings, calling on “all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalizing surgery … ‘reparative therapies’ or ‘conversion therapies,’ when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.”
Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, filed the report last month after holding a series of symposia on the issue of abuse in health care late in 2012.
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“The … report focuses on certain forms of abuses in health-care settings that may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Mendez wrote in the introduction to the report. “It identifies the policies that promote these practices and existing protection gaps.”
One of the main ‘protection gaps’ identified was a lack of easy access to abortion in some countries.
“The Committee against Torture has repeatedly expressed concerns about restrictions on access to abortion and about absolute bans on abortion as violating the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment,” Mendez wrote.
In the densely-worded 23-page report, Mendez devotes an entire section to “Reproductive Rights Violations.” While a list of violations towards the beginning of the section includes female genital mutilation, forced abortion, and forced sterilizations, much of the text that follows is focused on abortion access.
As an example, Mendez negatively referenced the case of a woman in Poland, where abortion is mostly illegal, who asked for and was denied an exception after an ultrasound revealed “a potential foetal abnormality.”
Poland’s abortion ban has three exceptions: if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or health; if the baby is “severely and irreversibly damaged or suffering from an incurable life‑threatening ailment;” or if the baby was conceived in “a criminal act,” i.e. rape.
Doctors within Poland’s government-run health system said that the baby’s condition was not severe enough to warrant an exception to the abortion ban, and refused to pay for further genetic testing to prove otherwise. The woman obtained testing through illicit channels with the help of a sympathetic doctor and found out that her baby had Turner Syndrome. Turner Syndrome is not a fatal diagnosis – most girls diagnosed with this chromosomal deformity are short of stature and sterile, but live relatively normal lives, according to the Mayo Clinic. Still, the woman wanted an abortion. By that time, however, it was too late. She was already 23 weeks pregnant, past the legal age of viability in Poland.
The woman gave birth; then sued the Polish government in the European Court of Human Rights. The Court agreed that her lack of access to abortion was, in fact, a human rights violation. They ordered the Polish government to pay her 45,000 Euros plus interest for mental anguish induced by having to carry her imperfect daughter, along with 15,000 Euros in legal fees.
Mendez lamented that while countries like Poland with strong laws against abortion may allow limited exceptions, such exceptions are often difficult to obtain, as in the case he cited. He recommended that such countries streamline the legal process for seeking abortion and make sure that doctors’ conscience rights don’t get in the way of women’s access.
“The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that women have access to emergency medical care, including post-abortion care, without fear of criminal penalties or reprisals,” Mendez wrote. “States whose domestic law authorizes abortions under various circumstances should ensure that services are effectively available without adverse consequences to the woman or the health professional.”