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New World Health Organization guidance calls for abortion to be fully decriminalized

World Health Organization (WHO)
Shadows of journalists are reflected on a wall next to WHO ’s logo at a news conference in Beijing, China, on March 29, 2016. |

The World Health Organization has released a 200-page document calling for the full decriminalization of abortion worldwide, which it describes as “lifesaving care.”

The WHO published an updated “Abortion care guideline” Wednesday, replacing guidance from 2012. In a statement, Craig Lissner, WHO’s acting director for sexual and reproductive health and research, asserted that “[b]eing able to obtain safe abortion is a crucial part of health care.”

“Nearly every death and injury that results from unsafe abortion is entirely preventable,” he stated. “That’s why we recommend women and girls can access abortion and family planning services when they need them.”

The new guidance condemns efforts by governments to restrict abortions.

Dr. Bela Ganatra, the head of WHO’s Prevention of Unsafe Abortion Unit, said that “Abortion care needs to respect the decisions and needs of women and girls, ensuring that they are treated with dignity and without stigma or judgment.”

“No one should be exposed to abuse or harms like being reported to the police or put in jail because they have sought or provided abortion care,” she stated. “The evidence is clear — if you want to prevent unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, you need to provide women and girls with a comprehensive package of sexuality education, accurate family planning information and services, and access to quality abortion care.”

An entire chapter of the new guidance features recommendations for abortion regulation, which proclaims that “Abortion should be fully decriminalized,” calling for the removal of “barriers” that “hinder access to and timely provision of quality abortion care.”

Examples of such “barriers” listed include “gestational age limits, mandatory waiting periods, third-party authorization requirements and provider restrictions.”

"Treaty monitoring bodies have called for the decriminalization of abortion in all circumstances," three guideline document reads. 

While abortion is legal in the United States, many states have enacted laws that WHO would classify as “barriers” to abortion access.

Several states have made efforts to ban abortion once a heartbeat can be detected. Most notably, Texas has a ban on abortions as early as six weeks gestation. Texas’ law has so far not been struck down by courts at the state and federal levels. 

Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule whether Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban violates the U.S. Constitution. A ruling in favor of the state of Mississippi, which is seeking to uphold the ban, would weaken the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The WHO guidance also recommends "using telemedicine approaches as an alternative to in-person interactions for provision of medical abortion."

WHO relied on abortion advocacy groups when formulating its updated abortion guidance.

The list of “external experts and WHO staff involved in guideline development” includes Laura Castleman of Planned Parenthood Michigan, Dhammika Perera of Marie Stopes International, Karthik Srinivasan of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Christina Zampas of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S., while Marie Stopes International is a pro-abortion advocacy group based in the United Kingdom.

"As governments in countries such as the United States and Poland act to further restrict abortion access, the WHO guideline provides concrete, evidence-based proof that access to abortion is fundamental to ensuring health as well as a human right and should be more, not less, accessible," Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said in a statement. 

WHO’s advocacy against abortion restrictions reflect a push to make abortion an international human right.

WHO’s “abortion care guidelines” include a reference to the “United Nations Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health,” which “includes evidence-based interventions for abortion and post-abortion care as one effective way to help individuals thrive and communities transform.”

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which declared “there is no international right to abortion.” In addition to the U.S., 31 other countries signed the document.

Shortly after taking office in January 2021, President Joe Biden issued a Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad, which indicated that his administration would “withdraw co-sponsorship and signature from the Geneva Consensus Declaration.”

Last November, the U.S. State Department included a sub-section on “reproductive rights” in its annual human rights report, highlighting foreign countries’ laws and programs regarding abortion and contraception. Pro-life advocates called the inclusion of “reproductive rights” in the human rights report “inappropriate.”

Last week, the World Health Organization faced criticism for sending out a tweet recognizing World Birth Defects Day.

The Twitter thread listed Down syndrome as one of “the most common severe birth defects,” prompting backlash from pro-life activists and parents of children with Down syndrome.

Rachel Campos Duffy, a Fox News contributor and the mother of nine children including a daughter with Down syndrome, took to Twitter to ask why the U.S. continues to “support discredited, China-run #WHO.” She insisted that “Down Syndrome is NOT a birth defect. It’s a chromosomal variation.”

“My baby w/ Downs is as human & valuable as any of my other kids,” she wrote. “These comments lead to discrimination & abortion. Celebrate, don’t eliminate differences.”

Kurt Kondrich, whose daughter Chloe has Down syndrome, shared her response to the WHO’s characterization of Down syndrome on Twitter. Her reply read, “I am Chloe Emmanuelle Kondrich and I am NOT a ‘severe birth defect.’”

In 2020 and 2021, contributions from the U.S. accounted for nearly one-quarter of all contributions to WHO, with net contributions over the two-year period amounting to more than $230 million. 

In response to the criticism, WHO edited a Facebook post that initially looked identical to the tweet announcing March 3 as World Birth Defects Day.

The tweet, which remains unedited, still maintains that “Most birth defects can be prevented and treated with access to quality maternal and newborn care” and “every year, they cause the deaths of close to 250,000 babies within just 1 month of birth.”

The revised Facebook post changes the word “most” to “some.” 

“WHO has edited its original post which, in conflating two distinct messages, unintentionally implied that Down syndrome was preventable through antenatal and newborn care,” the Facebook post reads.

“We sincerely apologize for any offence caused by our statement to people living with Down syndrome and their families. WHO commits to providing continued support for all those affected by Down syndrome, including appropriate healthcare, access to specialized services and respectful treatment. We appreciate your feedback on our post and will endeavour to ensure that our channels share information on Down syndrome moving forward, that respects the needs and desires of those affected.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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