Reproductive rights

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Reproductive rights are a series of rights of all couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.[1] Reproductive rights are considered to be a subset of human rights.[2]

Reproductive rights usually include the right to control one's reproductive functions, the right to access quality reproductive healthcare, and the right to education and access in order to make reproductive choices free from coercion, discrimination, and violence. Reproductive rights may also include the right to receive education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, and freedom from coerced sterilization and protection from gender-based practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and male genital mutilation (MGM).[3]

Abortion as reproductive right[edit]

Abortion as a reproductive right is a controversial issue.

It is argued that legalizing abortion is necessary to protect women's health as "twenty percent of all pregnancies worldwide end in abortion, and nearly half of those abortions are unsafe and often illegal."[4] According to the WHO, however, more than 45 million (legal and illegal) abortions take place annually, while approximately 66,500 women die from the complications of unsafe abortions every year (according to data repeatedly published by Ipas[5]). This would mean that the death risk for women undergoing abortion is 0.14%, but of course we don't know if it is the legal or illegal abortions that cause the deaths.

During and after the International Conference on Population and Development, some interested parties attempted to interpret the term "reproductive health" in the sense that it implies abortion as a means of family planning or, indeed, a right to abortion. These interpretations, however, do not reflect the consensus reached at the Conference. For the European Union, where legislation on abortion is certainly less restrictive than elsewhere, the Council Presidency has clearly stated that the Council’s commitment to promote "reproductive health" did not include the promotion of abortion.[6] Likewise, the European Commission, in response to a question from a Member of the European Parliament, clarified:

"The term 'reproductive health' was defined by the United Nations (UN) in 1994 at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. All Member States of the Union endorsed the Programme of Action adopted at Cairo. The Union has never adopted an alternative definition of 'reproductive health' to that given in the Programme of Action, which makes no reference to abortion."[7]

With regard to the US, only a few days prior to the Cairo Conference, the head of the US delegation, Vice President Al Gore, had stated for the record:

"Let us get a false issue off the table: the US does not seek to establish a new international right to abortion, and we do not believe that abortion should be encouraged as a method of family planning."[8]

Some years later, the position of the Bush Administration in this debate was confirmed by US Ambassador to the UN, Ellen Sauerbrey, when she stated at a meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that: "nongovernmental organizations are attempting to assert that Beijing in some way creates or contributes to the creation of an internationally recognized fundamental right to abortion."[9] She added: "There is no fundamental right to abortion. And yet it keeps coming up largely driven by NGOs trying to hijack the term and trying to make it into a definition".[10]

See also[edit]


  1. Gender and reproductive rights home page
  2. "Human Rights and Reproductive Choice"
  3. Knudsen, Lara (2006). Reproductive Rights in a Global Context
  4. Knudsen, Lara (2006). Reproductive Rights in a Global Context
  5. Ipas Resources
  6. European Parliament, 4 December 2003: Oral Question (H-0794/03) for Question Time at the part-session in December 2003 pursuant to Rule 43 of the Rules of Procedure by Dana Scallon to the Council. In the written record of that session, one reads: Posselt (PPE-DE): "Does the term 'reproductive health' include the promotion of abortion, yes or no?" - Antonione, Council: "No."
  7. European Parliament, 24 October 2002: Question no 86 by Dana Scallon (H-0670/02)
  8. Jyoti Shankar Singh, Creating a New Consensus on Population (London: Earthscan, 1998), 60
  9. Lederer, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1 March 2005
  10. Leopold, Reuters, 28 February 2005