Bihar has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the country. As part of the national litigation strategy of filing PILs in state high courts, this PIL has been filed to draw attention to the impact of failed policies and lack of access to maternal health care in the state.
Filing date: January 2009 (Original petition), June 2009 (Center memo)
Center Attorney(s): Melissa Upreti and Payal Shah
Partners: HRLN and Cornell Human Rights Clinic (research assistance)
Summary: More women die from pregnancy-related complications in India than anywhere else in the world and a woman living in the Indian state of Bihar faces one of the highest risks of losing her life to pregnancy.
In May 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in a case challenging Bihar over its failure to prevent maternal deaths and injuries. Centre for Health and Resource Management v. The State of Bihar &, Others was filed before the state high court in Bihar by the Center’s Indian partner the Human Rights Law Network.
Bihar’s Maternal Deaths Violate Women’s Human Rights
The case argues that the failure to implement national and local public health policies, along with lack of access to maternal healthcare in Bihar, have violated women’s basic human rights, including their right to life, health, equality and non-discrimination, and to a safe and healthy pregnancy.
The case seeks to make Bihar upgrade its hospitals, sub-centers, and other public health facilities and to uphold the Indian Public Health Standards in order to ensure safe childbirth. These actions have already been called for by India’s National Rural Health Mission.
The case also seeks to ensure that all public health facilities are accessible without discrimination and free of charge to persons below the poverty line.
International Law Recognizes a Woman’s Right to Safe Pregnancy
The Center’s friend-of-the-court brief supports the case by using international law to establish that both the Indian national government and the Bihar state government have an obligation to protect a woman’s right to survive pregnancy as a basic human right.
The case is part of a broader strategy to use public interest litigation to fight pregnancy-related deaths and injuries in India. The Center has filed memoranda of support in similar cases throughout India, including in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh.
The Center’s recent report Maternal Mortality in India: Using International and Constitutional Law to Promote Accountability and Change explicitly calls for legal action to fight this public health and human rights crisis.