IACHR Expresses Concern Over Lack of Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in Venezuela

April 6, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) once again voiced its concern over the reports regarding the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services in Venezuela, which is having a disproportionate impact on women and pregnant people of all ages during pregnancy and childbirth. In this regard, the IACHR urged the State to eliminate all de jure and de facto barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health services and to review its restrictive legislation on the voluntary termination of pregnancy.

The IACHR has received information on serious shortfalls and failures in the provision of maternal health services to pregnant women in Venezuela, which could constitute obstetric violence, according to the definitions that the IACHR has published in its reports. On its visit to the Colombian–Venezuelan border in early 2020, the IACHR received testimonies from women who claimed that they had to provide hospitals with surgical and prophylactic instruments in order to receive prenatal checkups and deliver their babies there. During this visit, it was observed that many Venezuelan women, most of whom are young, migrate with young children or while pregnant to attend prenatal checkups.

In this regard, the IACHR noted once more that barriers to access to maternal or prenatal health services can result in violations of the rights to the physical, psychological, and moral integrity of girls, adolescents, women, and pregnant people of all ages. It is also emphasized that the lack of access to health services and medical supplies that are only required by women and pregnant people could affect the principle of equality and nondiscrimination. In this sense, the IACHR called specifically on the State to comply with the precautionary measures granted to women patients in delivery and emergency rooms and newborns in the neonatal department of the Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital.

The IACHR received information indicating that women and pregnant people face growing obstacles to accessing contraceptive and family planning methods, which include shortages of contraception in some parts of the country and the high cost of accessing those forms that are available. According to a report published in 2019 by civil society organizations, the shortage rate of contraception in pharmacies in five of Venezuela's largest cities range from 83.3% to 91.7%. This situation, which is compounded by restrictive legislation on the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, may contribute to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and terminations in unsafe conditions, while also affecting the reproductive autonomy and life plans of women and pregnant people of all ages. In this regard, the IACHR is troubled by the fact that the State of Venezuela has not released official figures on maternal mortality rates since 2016.

The IACHR has observed that there is a close relationship between poverty, unsafe terminations, and high maternal mortality rates since as a result of the shortfalls in maternal healthcare and limited access to contraceptive methods, women and pregnant people resort to dangerous, clandestine procedures that jeopardize their lives. It also underlined that denying pregnant people the option of voluntarily terminating pregnancy may, in certain circumstances, constitute a violation of the fundamental rights of women and pregnant people of all ages, including the rights to life, personal integrity, health, and freedom from violence and discrimination.

It also noted that sexual violence has an irreparable impact on women, girls, and adolescents. These forms of violence, the scale on which they take place, and the impunity surrounding them all have negative effects on reproductive health and often result in unwanted, high-risk pregnancies, illegal and unsafe termination procedures, or forced motherhood. For this reason, the IACHR recommended that States design appropriate healthcare protocols for women, girls, and adolescents who are victims of sexual violence and provide safe legal procedures for terminating pregnancies resulting from sexual violence, to prevent unwanted, life-threatening pregnancies from continuing.

The IACHR called on the State of Venezuela to take measures to guarantee access to sexual and reproductive health services, including education on the subject with a gender perspective, and to guarantee the availability of contraception and emergency contraception for women and pregnant people of all ages. It also recommended that the State review domestic legislation on the voluntary termination of pregnancy to ensure that women can effectively exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to refrain from criminalizing human rights defenders who work to promote these rights.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 085/21