Global NGOs Urge U.N. Human Rights Committee to Reaffirm the Right to Life Begins at Birth

For Immediate Release

Global NGOs Urge U.N. Human Rights Committee to Reaffirm the Right to Life Begins at Birth

WASHINGTON - More than 50 NGOs are calling upon the U.N. Human Rights Committee (U.N. HRC) to reinforce and elaborate on the measures states must take to guarantee women’s right to life on the basis of equality and nondiscrimination, including by eradicating preventable maternal mortalities and morbidities and guaranteeing access to safe and legal abortion.

A broad coalition of human rights organizations, spearheaded by the Center for Reproductive Rights, submitted a joint statement during the U.N. HRC’s consultation on the right to life urging the committee to continue to protect women’s health and lives by calling on states to eradicate preventable maternal deaths, ensure access to modern contraceptives and expand access to safe and legal abortion.    

During the consultation, groups seeking to undermine women’s reproductive rights urged the U.N. HRC to contradict well-established international human rights law recognizing that the right to life begins at birth and expand the scope of when life begins. This could compel women to carry to term pregnancies that jeopardize their health and lives, and undermine women’s reproductive autonomy and equality. 

Said Rebecca Brown, director of Global Advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Close to 300,000 women around the world needlessly die each year because of governments’ failure to provide quality, comprehensive reproductive health care.

“Efforts to undermine women’s rights and access to essential services are an outright attack on their lives.

“The U.N. Human Rights Committee is a champion for women’s fundamental human rights, and we are confident the committee will do everything in its power to protect the well-being of women worldwide by rejecting efforts to deny access to critical health services.”

In the joint statement to the U.N. HRC, the Center and coalition partners address the ways that women’s health and lives continue to be jeopardized as a result of persistent discrimination which manifests in preventable maternal mortalities and morbidities, lack of reproductive health information, inadequate access to modern contraception and restrictive abortion laws. Specifically, the statement calls on the committee to reaffirm that the right to life provision in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights begins at birth and must not be invoked to jeopardize women’s fundamental human rights.  

International human rights law has long-established that the right to life begins at birth, and any other approach would be in direct contradiction and violation of reproductive rights. However, states continue to violate their human rights obligations and put women’s lives and health in grave danger in the name of protecting a fetus. El Salvador denied a 22-year-old pregnant woman from accessing abortion services even though she was pregnant with a non-viable fetus and suffering from complications related to lupus and kidney disease.

The Center has led some of the most important advances in reproductive rights worldwide. In 2008, the U.N. HRC ruled in the Center’s case of KL v. Peru that the denial of abortion services to an adolescent carrying a non-viable fetus constituted a violation of her rights to privacy and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, among other rights. At the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Center secured a historic victory stemming from the preventable maternal death of a young Brazilian woman who was denied quality maternal health services—the first time an international human rights decision named a maternal death a human rights violation.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

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