UN Human Rights Committee Makes Landmark Decision Establishing Women's Right to Access to Legal Abortion

Woman Forced to Carry Fatally Impaired Fetus to Term Wins Case

New York, NY-Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) decided its first abortion case, KL v. Peru. The decision establishes that denying access to legal abortion violates women's most basic human rights. This is the first time an international human rights body has held a government accountable for failing to ensure access to legal abortion services. The Human Rights Committee monitors countries' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"We are thrilled that the UNHRC has ruled in favor of protecting women's most essential human rights," says Luisa Cabal, Director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Every woman who lives in any of the 154 countries that are party to this treaty - including the U.S - now has a legal tool to use in defense of her rights. This ruling establishes that it is not enough to just grant a right on paper. Where abortion is legal it is governments' duty to ensure that women have access to it."

The case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights in partnership with the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM) and the Counseling Center for the Defense of Women's Rights (DEMUS) on behalf of a young Peruvian woman who was forced by state officials to carry a fatally impaired fetus to term. The pregnancy severely compromised her physical and psychological health.

In 2001, a 17-year-old Peruvian woman, was fourteen weeks pregnant when doctors at a public hospital in Lima diagnosed the fetus with anencephaly, a fatal anomaly in which the fetus lacks most or all of a forebrain. After much soul searching, the young woman decided to have an abortion. Abortion is legal in Peru for therapeutic reasons, however, because Peru failed to adopt clear regulations, women whose health is endangered by such pregnancies are left at the mercy of public officials. The petitioner in the case was denied access to the procedure by the hospital's director, and was compelled to carry the fetus to term. She was forced to breast-feed for the four days the infant survived.

"Many women around the world face barriers to abortion even where it is legal," says Lilian Sepulveda, Legal Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Providers refusing to provide services, restrictions on clinics, waiting periods, affordability issues, spousal and parental authorization, all represent barriers to legal abortion. Denying women access to basic reproductive health services - such as access to legal abortion - is a violation of their human rights, and finally there is a statement from international human rights law that holds governments accountable."

The ruling specifically establishes violations to the right to be free from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, privacy, special protection of the rights of a minor. It orders the Peruvian government to provide KL with reparations, and to adopt the necessary regulations to guarantee access to legal abortion.