Global Perspectives On Factors Influencing a Country's Capacity to Imprison Women for Abortion
Global Perspectives on Factors Influencing a Country’s Capacity to Imprison Women for Abortion
Michele Eggers, MSW
International human rights standards embody comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, yet laws in 109 countries still permit the arrest and imprisonment of women who seek abortions. The trend to criminalize women for abortion reflects a race and class bias. Due to the often poor economic and social status of women, they experience multiple layers of discrimination in addition to not having equal access to the same resources as other women in a higher social economic class. Laws criminalizing abortion only perpetuate unsafe conditions for women seeking abortions, but do not eliminate abortions. The human rights of women are violated when governments restrict women’s right to health, women’s right to be free from discrimination, and women’s right to life, liberty, and security. The purpose of this study is to investigate factors that influence a country’s capacity to imprison women for abortion.
Primary and secondary data analysis was conducted of 185 United Nations (UN) member states. Primary data was compiled from two UN publications, Abortion Policies: A Global Review and World Abortion Policies. Secondary data was compiled from the UN World Abortion Policies, the Cingranelli-Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Dataset, the International Centre for Prison Studies, and the WomanStats Project. Data collected was between 2002-2010. The capacity to imprison women for abortion was operationalized based on a combination of two factors; if a country has written laws stating that a woman can be imprisoned for either consenting to or inducing her own abortion and the length of time a woman can be imprisoned for abortion. Multiple Regression tested a model of the effects on the capacity to imprison women for abortion from laws in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), family law and practice, the physical security of women, women’s political, economic, and social rights, abortion policies, prison rates, freedom of speech and religion, and maternal mortality.
Results indicated that inequity in family law and practice (β=.476, p=.001), abortion policies (β=.260, p=.004), and political rights (β=-.169, p=.035) were significantly associated with the capacity to imprison women for abortion. CEDAW, the physical security of women, women’s economic and social rights, prison rates, freedom of speech and religion, and maternal mortality were found to be non-significant in this model. The total model explained 37% of the variance in the capacity to imprison women for abortion, F(11, 144) = 7.59, p< .001.
Inequity in family law and practice, political rights, and access to abortion services influence a country’s capacity to imprison women for abortion. Findings indicate that the inequality of women in policy and practice arenas create the conditions where women are criminalized for abortion. The role of social work is vital on both policy (reproductive rights) and practice (reproductive health) levels. Social workers can work to improve the health & human rights of marginalized women and challenge a criminal justice paradigm as a response to social issues.