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View the documentReproductive rights and human rights

Reproductive rights and human rights

The Programme of Action of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) set out the context and content of reproductive rights. “Reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other relevant United Nations consensus documents. These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence as expressed in human rights documents.”

The Beijing Conference incorporated much of the ICPD language on reproductive rights directly into the Platform for Action. The Platform states: “Good health is essential to leading a productive and fulfilling life, and the right of all women to control all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic to their empowerment.” Further: “The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

In 1999, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women interpreted Article 12 of the Convention, which requires states to eliminate discrimination against women in access to health services throughout the life cycle, particularly in the areas of family planning, pregnancy and confinement and during the post-natal period. The Committee affirmed that access to health care, including reproductive health, is a basic right under the Convention, stating, inter alia:

“States parties should implement a comprehensive national strategy to promote women's health throughout their lifespan. This will include interventions aimed at both the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting women, as well as responding to violence against women, and will ensure universal access for all women to a full range of high-quality and affordable health care, including sexual and reproductive health services.

States parties should allocate adequate budgetary, human and administrative resources to ensure that women's health receives a share of the overall health budget comparable with that for men's health, taking into account their different health needs.”

The legal foundations of reproductive rights

As affirmed at both the Cairo and Beijing conferences, reproductive rights embrace certain human rights already recognised in international human rights treaties:

The right to liberty and security of the person: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9(1).

The right to health: International Covenant in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Article 12.

The right to non-discrimination in the provision of health care and in the family: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Articles 12(1), 16(1).

The right to marry and found a family: UDHR, Article 16(1); CEDAW Article 16(1); ICCPR, Article 23(2).

The right to freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home: ICCPR, Article 17(1).

The right to enjoy scientific progress and consent to experimentation: ICESCR, Article 15(1).

The right of sexual non-discrimination: CEDAW, Articles 1-2; UDHR, Article 2; ICCPR, Article 2(1); ICESCR, Article 2(2).

The right of men and women to have on a basis of equality access to family planning: CEDAW, Article 12(1).

The right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health: ICESCR, Article 12.

The right to only enter into marriage with full consent: ICESCR, Article 10; CEDAW, Article 16.

The right to access to information, counselling and services in family planning: CEDAW, Article 14.

The right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of children and to have access to the information, education and means to be enabled to exercise these rights: CEDAW, Article 16.

The right to enjoy and exercise the above rights without discrimination of any kind: ICESCR, Article 2; CEDAW, Article 1.