UN Human Rights Committee Asserts that Access to Abortion and Prevention of Maternal Mortality are Human Rights

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(PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights welcomes and firmly supports the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s General Comment on the Right to Life. The language of the comment affirms that abortion is a human right, that preventable maternal deaths are a violation of the right to life, and that the right to life begins at birth.

“This is an important affirmation which will provide strong support for our global advocacy, litigation, and research that defines and enforces abortion as a fundamental human right,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The General Comment on the Right to Life provides the international community with a much-needed framework to hold governments accountable for the high rates of death and injury which occur when women are forced to seek out unsafe abortions.”  

“Comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion, are necessary to guarantee the right to life, health, privacy, and non-discrimination for women and girls,” added Northup.   

This critical advancement puts women’s health and bodily autonomy at the top of human rights conversations by requiring states to provide safe, legal, and effective access to abortion including when the pregnancy presents a threat to the woman’s health or will cause her substantial pain or suffering, particularly in pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Additionally, states are required to remove existing policy and structural barriers that prevent women and girls’ effective access to abortion, including those barriers created due to conscientious objection.  

The General Comment is the result of a three-year process at the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Member states and non-government organizations worked together to create critical global human rights standards to prevent maternal mortality and to ensure that access to abortion is protected under international human rights law. It also reaffirms the fundamental principle that human rights apply only after birth.  

This legal standard also clarifies that criminalization of abortion or pregnancy of unmarried women and girls, including criminalization of medical service providers, could be considered a violation of women or girls right to life, as it compels them to resort to unsafe abortion. States are obliged to ensure women and girls have access to affordable contraception, evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information, and that states prevent stigmatization of women and girls who seek an abortion.