Indian Activist Sues State for Neglecting Maternal Mortality

A public health activist in India has taken the state of Madhya Pradesh to court over the staggering number of women in the state who die during pregnancy and childbirth. The public interest lawsuit was brought in July 2008 by Sandesh Bansal, the coordinator of Jan Adhikar Manch, a network of local health NGOs. The state of Madhya Pradesh has the third-highest maternal mortality ratio in India, with 498 deaths for every 100,000 live births. The underlying causes include unaffordable healthcare, financial corruption within the healthcare system, and poor quality of care.

Mr. Bansal contends that the government of Madhya Pradesh has failed to properly implement maternal health policies in the state. He has requested the court to order the state government to establish health facilities where needed and ensure that they are fully functional; guarantee that no person is denied free health services; and create a surveillance mechanism to identify and review maternal deaths.

In July 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a legal memorandum to the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in support of Mr. Bansal's claims, describing how international human rights law supports a woman's right to safe pregnancy. In August 2011, the court ordered the state government to pay fines for failing to submit a proper response. The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), one of the Center's partners in India, is providing legal representation in this case. The Center has been working with HRLN since 2006 to promote the use of litigation to protect women's reproductive rights.