amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Preventing Forced Abortion and Sterilization

Administering antiretroviral therapy (ART) to pregnant women and then to their infants, and instructing mothers to avoid breastfeeding in settings where that is safe and feasible can reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission to below one percent. Effective ART can also ensure that HIV-positive parents will have long, healthy lives. However, despite these medical advances, a report by the Asia-Pacifi c Network of People Living with HIV (APN+) showed that some HIV-positive women are being pushed to have abortions and sterilization procedures.

Forced Abortion Prevention TREAT ASIA 
A pediatrician in Indonesia counsels a mother about HIV care for her daughter.

Their 2011 survey of 757 HIV-positive women from six countries in South and Southeast Asia reported abortion rates between eight percent (Indonesia) and 44 percent (Vietnam). Of the women who had an abortion, 29 percent indicated that they were wanted pregnancies. Between 18 percent (Vietnam) and 40 percent (Indonesia) of the women were asked to consider sterilization, and 60 percent of these recommendations came from their doctors. Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, called forced sterilization of vulnerable communities “an act of violence… and a violation of the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”

TREAT Asia recently began working with the United Nations agencies on HIV (UNAIDS), development (UNDP), and children (UNICEF), and APN+ to develop a coordinated response to prevent forced abortion and sterilization, and ensure access to non-stigmatizing reproductive healthcare for women with HIV in the region. First, local lawyers will document existing laws and enforcement mechanisms that protect sexual and reproductive health rights. The results will be used to guide subsequent interventions aimed at improving national reproductive health policy. Additionally, the organizations are working to develop a broader range of activities, including community trainings on reproductive rights, and advocacy efforts to improve women’s access to healthcare in general and to reproductive health specifically.