“Reproductive Rights” Author Credits Work of Treaty Bodies for Liberalizing Abortion Worldwide

In a recently released article, authors Reed Boland of the Harvard School of Public Health and Laura Katzive of the abortion advocacy group the Center for Reproductive Rights boast of a “liberalizing trend” in abortion laws over the last ten years.  The authors assert that a major factor in the liberalization of abortion globally is the influence of treaty monitoring committees which have interpreted abortion as a human right and pressured governments to amend their laws.

In “Developments in Laws on Induced Abortion: 1998 – 2007 ” published in International Family Planning Perspectives, Boland and Katzive state that over the last 22 years, 36 countries have significantly liberalized their abortion laws. In the last decade, the authors state that “the expansion of the use of human rights principles to support a women’s right to abortion” has been a major impetus for liberalization and predict that this factor “can only assume greater importance as courts and human rights bodies increasingly hold governments accountable for their duties under human rights law.”

Boland and Katzive cite the example of the Colombian constitutional court which used the non-binding recommendations from United Nations (UN) treaty monitoring bodies to liberalize the country’s strict abortion ban in 2006.  The authors also cite the UN Human Rights Committee’s non-binding opinion KL vs. Peru which found that the government violated a 17-year old girl’s right to “be free from inhumane and degrading treatment” and her “right to privacy” when she was denied permission to abort her anencephalic baby.

While members of treaty monitoring bodies have taken it upon themselves to question sovereign countries on their laws protecting the unborn, no international human rights treaty mentions abortion.  Since 1998, there have been over 100 incidents of treaty bodies pressuring more than 65 countries on abortion.

Boland and Katzive believe that reproductive rights advances will be hard to reverse as more countries “recognize the impact of abortion restrictions on women’s human rights.”  The authors warn, however, that “respect for abortion rights is still far from universal” and that the trend towards liberalization “should not mask serious threats to reproductive rights” such as restrictions on those who can perform abortions and limitations as to when the procedure can be legally performed.

The authors list methods that countries can undertake to guarantee access to abortion. These include: allowing “midlevel” providers to perform abortions, allowing public facilities to distribute abortion drugs, clarifying the legal procedures for obtaining abortions, and adopting a broad interpretation of “health” to include mental health so as to “increase the number of women who are eligible for safe abortion in public and private facilities.”

Dr. Donna Harrison, President of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians to and Gynecologists, told the Friday Fax that “making abortion legal does not make it safe.”  Harrison explained that RU486, an abortion-inducing drug, has a “ten times increased risk of death from infection” compared to surgical abortion.  Harrison warns, “To make medical abortion available to women who do not have immediate access to surgical facilities and transfusions is tantamount to female genocide.”

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