01.17.17

Reproductive Health & Zika in Venezuela

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This post was written by Andrés Constantin. Andrés is an adjunct professor of law at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. Any questions or comments can be directed to aconstantin@utdt.edu.

On February 5, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that upholding women’s human rights is essential if the response to the Zika health emergency is to be effective adding that laws and policies that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services in contravention of international standards must be repealed and concrete steps must be taken so that women have the information, support and services they require to exercise their rights to determine whether and when they become pregnant – noting that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services include contraception, maternal healthcare and safe abortion services to the full extent of the law. She also added that “the advice of some governments to women to delay getting pregnant ignores the reality that many women and girls simply cannot exercise control over whether or when or under what circumstances they become pregnant, especially in an environment where sexual violence is so common.”

In Venezuela, the lack of access to contraceptives has risen to 90% in 2015. Moreover, Venezuela is a country with highly restrictive laws governing women’s reproductive rights which represent a serious problem to women that had an unintended pregnancy.

Under the Criminal Code, the performance of abortions is generally illegal in Venezuela. A person who provokes the abortion of a woman with her consent is subject to 12 to 30 months’ imprisonment. If the woman does not consent, the penalty is increased to 15 months’ to three years’ imprisonment. A woman who intentionally performs her own abortion or consents to its performance by another person is subject to six months’ to two years’ imprisonment. Harsher penalties are applied if the abortion results in the death of the woman or if it is performed by the husband of the woman or by a health professional.

Nonetheless, under the Criminal Code, an abortion may be legally performed by a health professional if necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. In that case, an abortion may be performed only with the written consent of the woman, her husband or her legal representative. The procedure must be carried out in a suitable environment, using all possible scientific resources.

In this context, it is clear that in Venezuela a woman that got pregnant has no access to safe abortion even in the case she was infected with the Zika virus posing a serious threat to its reproductive health and human rights.

Reproductive rights are fundamental human rights that have been recognized by international, regional, and national legal frameworks, standards, and agreements. In responding to Zika, and Venezuela must be accountable to their obligations to all affected women.

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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