States have consistently chosen to use language in their constitutions that affirms the right to life without trying to define when life begins, reinforcing the approach taken by all major international human rights instruments. However, the current draft of the Zambian Constitution contains language stating that the right to life begins from conception, a troubling development.
On July 30, 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a letter to the Technical Committee on Drafting the Zambian Constitution highlighting the harmful impact of including conception language in the right-to-life provision. The letter recommends removing this language, as it would interfere significantly with women’s basic human rights, including the rights to life, to be free from discrimination, and to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Recognizing legal personhood at any point in prenatal development can also have wide ranging, and often unintended, consequences throughout the legal sphere, leading to further human rights violations and other legal inconsistencies.
To protect the lives and health of Zambian women and to fulfill the promises of a new Zambian Constitution, the drafters of the Constitution should take a rights-protective approach that simply affirms the fundamental and universal right to life, without stating when life begins.