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Investigation Shows Threats, Restrictions Impose Severe Obstacles for Abortion Providers, Women Seeking Abortions

Center for Reproductive Rights Urges Governments, Public, Medical Community to Support Abortion Providers as Human Rights Defenders

NEW YORK, July 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Aggressive harassment, discriminatory legal restrictions and serious stigma are reducing the number of abortion providers and making abortions more difficult for women to obtain, according to a report released today by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a leading reproductive rights advocacy group.

The report, Defending Human Rights: Abortion Providers Facing Threats, Restrictions, and Harassment, documents a four-month investigation of challenges facing abortion doctors and clinics in six states: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. The research chronicles the death threats, break-ins at homes and offices and physical assaults providers face as they protect women's reproductive health.

"Dr. Tiller's murder focused attention on this problem for a moment, but people don't realize that abortion providers operate under siege, legal and physical, every single day," explained Nancy Northup, the Center's president.

In addition to harassment, abortion providers face a web of discriminatory legal restrictions that have no medical justification, but make abortions more costly and difficult to provide, the Center's research found. Among these are laws that require a mandatory "waiting period" before a woman can obtain an abortion, counseling requirements that force doctors to present a biased and sometimes inaccurate description of abortion and its consequences, and Ambulatory Surgical Center laws that serve no purpose other than to mandate costly and sometimes impossible facilities renovations.

The Center unveiled the report in a Washington, D.C. briefing for members of Congress and staff, accompanied by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), abortion providers and representatives of major human rights organizations.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health in Texas, welcomed the report. "For more than 35 years, abortion providers have provided an oasis for women needing to contemplate the most fundamental of decisions safe from the stigma surrounding abortion," she said. "Women have always had and will always have abortions. The question is whether safe and legal providers are available to them."

The report also argues that because abortion providers enable women to realize basic human rights such as the rights to health, equality, life, and privacy, they should be recognized as human rights defenders. It urges the state and federal government to adopt international standards for protecting and supporting clinic workers.

The report describes the international legal framework for ensuring that human rights defenders can function safely and effectively. In addition to international agreements on international human rights, including reproductive rights, the United Nations adopted a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998 with the support of the United States. Recognizing that human rights defenders often face stigma and opposition, the Declaration requires States to protect these workers.

"As this important report makes clear, preserving the legal right to abortion is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for making women's reproductive rights effective in the United States," said Meghan Rhoad, researcher for the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. "Every day, medical professionals struggle against tremendous odds and at personal cost to give these rights meaning by ensuring access to abortion services. It is time for the government to stand with these human rights defenders."

Instead, the Center's research shows that state and local governments often work against abortion providers. For example, in the 2009 state legislative session alone, 23 bills restricting abortion were introduced in Texas and 18 were introduced in Mississippi.

"The result," said Northup, "is not just endangerment and marginalization of abortion providers, but a denial of rights for the one in three American women who will seek an abortion in their lifetimes. The number of abortion providers in the United States fell by 25% just between 1992 and 2005. Without providers, the right to abortion is meaningless."

Two of the states featured in the report, North Dakota and Mississippi, have only a single abortion provider. Nationwide, 87 percent of counties in the country lack an abortion provider, and nearly a quarter of the women in the U.S. must travel more than 50 miles to reach one.

The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental right that all governments are obligated to protect, respect and fulfill.

SOURCE Center for Reproductive Rights
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