Left nominates women fighting for a free, safe and legal abortion for 2023 Sakharov Prize

The Left in the European Parliament presented its proposal for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought: women fighting for a free, safe and legal abortion – Justyna Wydrzyńska (Poland) Morena Herrera (El Salvador) and Colleen McNicholas (US). 

Access to free, safe and legal abortion is a fundamental right. However, it is unequally protected around the world. Although a total ban remains the exception in some countries, such as El Salvador, many states limit abortion to cases in which there is a danger to the health or life of the pregnant woman. Globally, at least 111 million women don’t have the right to decide on their pregnancy, according to the Centre for Reproductive Rights.  40% of women live under restrictive abortion laws. That accounts for 753 million women of reproductive age.

In the last decade, we have seen important advances to achieve free, safe and legal abortion. Women’s victories in Colombia and Argentina have been a source of inspiration for the global feminist movement. However, we have also witnessed significant setbacks. Poland and the US are just two examples of this unfortunate regression.

Forcing a woman to continue her pregnancy or seek an unsafe abortion method constitutes a violation of her human rights and is a form of gender-based violence.

The right to abortion is under attack, but the feminist fight is strong and vibrant.

Left MEP Miguel Urban Crespo (Anticapitalistas, Spain) declared: 

“Justyna Wydrzyńska (Poland), Morena Herrena (El Salvador) and Colleen McNicholas (US), represent all women who fight for universal access to free, legal and safe abortion. Because we cannot allow patriarchy, misogyny and conservative elites to decide on the body and life of women. Because we cannot and we will not stay silent when women’s rights to bodily autonomy are violated.”

More on the nominees: 

Justyna Wydrzyńska (Poland) – abortion rights activist

Justyna Wydrzyńska, a women’s rights defender and member of the Abortion Dream Team, was sentenced to eight months of community service for helping a woman in need obtain an abortion in Poland. 

This was the first case in Europe where an abortion rights defender was convicted for helping someone to access abortion care. Justyna’s conviction sets a dangerous precedent in the EU and beyond. 

Morena Herrera (El Salvador) – feminist and social activist for safe and legal abortion 

Morena Herrera is a Salvadoran feminist and social activist, advocating for safe and legal abortion access in El Salvador. In 2009, she began working with the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, which she now heads.

In El Salvador, abortion is fully criminalised in all circumstances, and can be punished by up to 8 years in prison. Women can also be charged with aggravated homicide, which holds a 30- to 50-year prison sentence.

Dr Colleen McNicholas (US) – abortion medical doctor

Dr. McNicholas brings over 10 years of experience as an obstetrician-gynecologist with a strong track record of high-quality patient care and impactful reproductive health advocacy. She achieved the rank of Associate Professor and is now the first Chief Medical Officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. She is a Gold Humanism Honor Society member and has been recognised by various organisations for her leadership, advocacy, and work to expand clinical services.

Millions of women and girls across the United States have suffered an alarming deterioration in access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, following the US Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022. Twenty-two states now ban abortion or restrict the procedure earlier in pregnancy than the standard set by Roe v. Wade.