Government backtracks to support global abortion rights

2 December, 2022

In a new multinational statement, the UK Government has thrown its weight behind ‘promoting and defending comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for all’, after having removed such commitments from another statement over the summer. Humanists UK has welcomed the renewed support for women’s rights to abortion and other services.

July rollback on abortion rights

In July, the UK hosted the International Ministerial on Freedom of Religion or Belief. As part of that, it published the ‘Statement on freedom of religion or belief and gender equality’, which had been drafted alongside other countries. 22 different countries signed the statement, which committed them to abolish discriminatory laws that ‘restrict women’s and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of all human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, bodily autonomy’.

But later that month, the UK unilaterally removed those words from the statement. Humanists UK first spotted the change. Several countries, including Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark, protested the decision. So did over 20 human rights, pro-choice, and international aid groups, in a letter coordinated by Humanists UK. The revised statement was only signed by 8 countries.

A reversal: new commitments to abortion rights

The UK refused to reinstate the original statement. But it has now made similar commitments elsewhere. This week the UK hosted another conference – the International Ministerial Conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. As part of that, the UK published a new multilateral ‘political declaration on conflict-related sexual violence’. That declaration has been signed by 53 countries. It includes:

‘Conflict-related sexual violence must be tackled as part of wider global efforts to… promote and defend comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. We remain firm in our ambition to deliver our commitments in these areas, including: …ensuring access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health at the outset and throughout crises.’

The UK also made a national commitment to ‘continue investing in gender-based violence response services, including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.’

The UK also published a new ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict strategy’. This includes ‘The UK will continue to invest in life-saving comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services to support survivors of gender-based violence… The UK has committed to considering SRHR in all our humanitarian funding. We will support the provision of SRHR supplies and services through our partnerships and our global advocacy on SRHR preparedness and response.’

Another policy paper published elaborates that ‘Comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare includes obstetric and antenatal care for pregnant women, access to contraceptive information and services, including emergency contraception, clinical management of rape and post-exposure prophylaxis for prevention of HIV transmission, treatment of sexual transmitted infections, and access to safe abortion and post-abortion care.’

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We welcome the UK Government’s renewed commitments to abortion rights around the globe. At a time when such rights are under attack, due to decisions like the repeal of Roe v Wade, such commitments are particularly vital. It is only by women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare needs being comprehensively met that they can be healthy, happy, and safe.

‘We look forward to working with the UK Government on this shared agenda in the months and years to come.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read about the July deletion of the statement.

Read the new multinational statement, national commitment, strategy, and further policy paper.

Read more about our work on international campaigns and abortion.

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