Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture

Far too often, women suffer violations of their reproductive rights that inflict tremendous physical and psychological pain. They may be sterilized without their consent while doctors perform a cesarean section, denied pain medication and life-saving care for complications of abortion, or forcibly detained in a health facility for not being able to pay service fees.  In its new briefing paper, Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A Critical Human Rights Analysis, the Center demonstrates that many of these abuses amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT) is a firmly established principle in international human rights law. But until recently, torture and CIDT were understood to take place only in prisons and other traditional detention settings, during interrogations and in conflict zones.  The briefing paper shows that many reproductive rights violations meet the legal requirements for torture or CIDT and, through case examples, illustrates how advocates can hold governments and other actors accountable for these abuses. 

Under international law, governments are required to take immediate action to prevent, punish and redress acts of torture or CIDT.  In this briefing paper, the Center argues that states’ legal obligations are equally pressing for severe reproductive rights violations.

The production of the briefing paper was supported in part by a grant from the Foundation to Promote Open Society.  It is a tool for advocates, lawyers, judges, scholars and policymakers to better understand and address certain reproductive rights violations as forms of torture or CIDT.