Calls on Governments Worldwide to Respect Reproductive Rights as Human Rights
(PRESS RELEASE) Human Rights Day is a time to remember that a woman’s reproductive rights cut to the core of her fundamental well-being and her place in the world. Without the ability to decide when and whether to have children and the information and means to do so, a woman cannot live with dignity, enjoy full and equal citizenship, or lead a healthy and fulfilling life.These guiding principles serve as the foundation for the basic human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sixty-one years ago today and have paved the way for amazing advancements in women’s reproductive freedom. Over the last decade, countries around the world have been increasingly recognizing that a woman must have quality access to reproductive health care, including contraception, pre-natal care, and abortion in order to realize her human rights to self-determination, health, and life.
One massive step forward came in Nepal this year. It was only seven years ago that the Nepalese government prohibited abortion under any circumstance and imprisoned women for having the procedure, miscarrying or delivering stillbirths. In 2002, in a remarkable move, Nepal’s King signed into law a bill legalizing abortion, allowing the procedure during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when a woman’s life or health is in danger, and in cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment. This past May, the country’s Supreme Court ordered the government to set up an abortion fund for poor women, asserting that no one should be denied access to safe abortion due to their inability to pay. The court also ordered the government to ensure stronger safeguards for women’s privacy, promote access to safe services for all women, and disseminate information about safe abortion services to health service providers and the public. The Center helped litigate the case, Lakshmi Dhikta v. Nepal, arguing that Nepal violated its human rights obligations under international treaties when it failed to ensure that abortion was accessible.In Kenya just last month, the Ministry of Health upended a longtime policy in which public hospitals detained women for their inability to pay their medical bills. In 2007, the Center and its on-the-ground partner FIDA Kenya documented the pervasive abuse of pregnant women in the country’s public health facilities. Part of that research showed that mothers and their newborns were kept in hospitals for months. After years of our advocacy work, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights petitioned the Ministry of Health. On November 25, the Ministry ordered the release of all patients, men and women, who had been detained in various hospitals.On this Human Rights Day, the U.S. government should remember its commitments to women’s equality. As members of Congress debate health care reform, they should heed the words of Colombia’s Constitutional Court, which made history in 2006 when it declared the country’s blanket ban on abortion unconstitutional. Women’s sexual and reproductive rights, the court declared, “emerge from the recognition that equality in general, gender equality in particular, and the emancipation of women and girls are essential to society. Protecting sexual and reproductive rights is a direct path to promoting the dignity of all human beings, and a step forward in humanity’s advancement towards social justice.” Without full respect and protection of women’s reproductive rights, the promise of dignity and equality enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will not be fulfilled. It is time for the U.S. and the rest of the world to guarantee the human rights and freedoms that women need to live with dignity and attain healthy and fulfilling lives.
President, Center for Reproductive Rights